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My 09- July 10 Education writings

A lack of leadership
It’s no secret that Duval County schools are in the midst of a budget crisis. To help alleviate this last year they enacted a quarter mill property tax which basically amounts to 35 dollars on a hundred and forty thousand dollar home. They are considering whether to maintain this for a second year and if they should put it on the ballot so the tax payers can decide if they are willing to pay it in the 11-12 and 12-13 school years.

Before I continue let me say that I fully get it, nobody likes taxes and in this economy the vast majority of us including me are already feeling the pinch. I will likewise say where I know there are needs not being met in Jacksonville's schools I also think waste is occurring. With that being said I think extending the millage rate is a no-brainer.

W.C. Gentry on the other hand isn’t so sure. He said he would only support the extension if the district first makes some hard decisions where to cut expenses. When I read this I did a double take. Mister Gentry is part of the school board that in recent months looked into hiring a public relations person and put aside fifty thousand dollars to obtain private representation to fight the charter review commission's suggestion we switch to an appointed school board. Furthermore the school board increased the travel budget by hundreds of thousands of dollars, authorised a study of the districts practices for a half million, settled with Aramak services for a similar amount and authorized tens of millions of dollars in new construction. Is Mr. Gentry suddenly concerned with finances? Does he not know that the federal stimulus is the only thing that propped us up last year and is saving us from a financial disaster this coming one. Finally the superintendent himself said we probably wouldn’t be able to fully implement the class size amendment, are we just refusing to do so, or is a lack of money involved?

Every time somebody from 1700 Prudential Drive opens there mouth it shows the city once again what the number one problem affecting our schools is and that’s leadership as in the district is sorely lacking it. Leadership that does the right thing even if it is hard like holding kids back who don’t have the ability to be successful at the next level or disciplining children for bad behavior. Leadership that does the right thing even if it’s unpopular like asking for more money through taxes.

Next year unless the stimulus is extended or the Florida legislature develops a conscious, Duval County Public Schools will automatically be down 43 million dollars. Mr. Gentry may feel comfortable adding another sixteen million to that but I am not and neither should you even if it costs you around thirty five bucks.
Hoodwinked, bamboozled, had the rug pulled out from under or just plain lied to all fit for what the state did to thousands of teachers the other day. With little fanfare the Florida Department of Education announced they ended the Critical Teacher Shortage (CTS) loan forgiveness and tuition reimbursement program. They did so because the legislature decided not to fund it anymore.

This is the same legislature that told thousands of people in the business world and prospective teachers that if they joined the profession and taught in areas of critical needs, math, science and special education that they would have their loans forgiven. Now all of these people are going to be saddled with debt that they were told that if they did the right thing that they wouldn’t have to pay. Though it’s not only the unfulfilled promise that’s the problem here but why would teachers stay or go into the most challenging areas of education now?

This happened during the same legislative session where they capped the amount of taxes that the buyers of new yachts have to pay.

This happened during the same legislative session where they tried (and may still do) to circumnavigate the will of the people by rolling back the class size amendment.

This happened during the same legislative session where it took a veto from the governor to stop from passing, the punitive towards teachers and badly written senate bill six.

This happened during the same legislative session where they continued to violate the constitution of Florida by refusing to fund education in a first class manner.

This happened during the same legislative session that approved increased tax breaks to companies that finance vouchers taking even more money away from the already cash starved public school system.

This happened during the same legislative session where they dramatically increased graduation requirements despite the fact that thousands ands upon thousands of students can’t reach the requirements already in place.

The other day thousands of teachers who counted on the promise of having their student loans forgiven if they agreed to teach in an area of critical need were hoodwinked but they weren’t the only ones. Parents who believed the legislature had the best interest for and actually cared about their children had the wool pulled over their eyes too.

Hoodwinked, bamboozled, had the rug pulled out from under, the wool pulled over their eyes or were just plain lied to all fit for what the state did to thousands of teachers the other day. Sadly that’s the same thing they have been doing to parents, children and the citizens of Florida for a while.

What are they doing?
I called the University of North Florida and asked them what a full time college schedule was. They told me it was four classes. I asked the lady who picked up if I could take eight at a time. At first I believe she thought I was joking. When I assured her I wasn’t she said I would have to get a special override but it was unlikely that I would get permission. That’s just to many classes, she said.

I called Jacksonville University and asked them what a full time college schedule was. They told me it was four classes. I asked the lady who picked up if I could take eight at a time. At first I believe she thought I was joking. When I assured her I wasn’t she said I would have to get a special override but it was unlikely that I would get permission. It would be crazy to take that many classes, she said.

I called Florida State College at Jacksonville and asked them what a full time college schedule was. They told me it was four classes. I asked the lady who picked up if I could take eight at a time. At first I believe she thought I was joking. When I assured her I wasn’t she said I would have to get a special override but it was unlikely that I would get permission. I have never heard of anybody ever taking that many classes, she said.

I didn’t have the heart to tell the lady that’s how many classes all the students in public high school here in Jacksonville take. That’s right they all take eight classes double what would be considered full time in college.

Furthermore when I was in college I made sure if I could to put some fun class in my schedule. A class I enjoyed not just some hoop I had to jump through to get to the next level. Many of our kids today don’t have that luxury. They are taking eight academic classes at a time. It’s not uncommon for children to have two maths or two English’s concurrently on their schedule and furthermore some take both a class and it’s prerequisite at the same time. Many students go without electives.

There are undoubtedly some kids who would fail if all they were taking just one or two classes but at the same time how aren’t we overloading many of the children attending our schools.

It’s not just the amount of classes that they are taking that are holding many of our high school students back either.

High school starts for some as early as 7:10 and this means most students get up much earlier. This is how we have set it up for the group of children that most experts say need the most rest. We are doing the opposite of what’s best for them putting them in a position that assures that in actually they are getting the least. Also if this is the group we want off the streets the most why do we put them back on the streets, in most cases at 2:15, the earliest.

Furthermore classes are way to long. This fast food, video game generation is not programmed to sit in a class for ninety minutes at a time, simply put they don’t have the attention span. Invariably this leads to instruction time being lost in many classes and in more than a few this leads to discipline problems as well. If classes were fifty minutes, coincidently enough the same length as the majority of college classes’, kids would be distracted less and focused more.

If we are determined to keep kids on the block schedule what about switching it back to when children only took four classes at a time. Not only would this stop forcing some kids to take both the prerequisite for a class and the class or two math’s and two English’s at a time but it would make things fair. The only reason I know of that the district switched to an A/B block schedule (eight classes at a time) is so students taking Advanced Placement classes would still be taking them at the end of the year when the tests were offered.

Though and I understand reasonable people can disagree, I think the best schedule is a six period day that is fifty minutes to an hour long where at least one elective could be worked in that starts later in the day. Shouldn’t we give more of these growing kids filled with hormones, who by nature are already sleep deprived, who have short attention spans, many of who have absent parents and live in neighborhoods that don’t care about education, at least, at the very least a fighting chance.

You hear all the time about what parents and the community should be doing and about what teachers should be doing more of. Well what about the system? It currently sets up many high school students to fail or to be mediocre at best. What changes are they making? How are they making things better?

270 Thousand

When people talk about education they often throw lots of numbers around. Some of the most discussed are the dropout and graduation rates and how different groups score on tests such as the f-cat. However there is one number that trumps them all and that number is 270 thousand.

270 Thousand is the salary of our school superintendent. He makes a hundred thousand more than our mayor and substantially more than the chief of police as well. He makes thirty thousand less than the superintendents of Clay and St. Johns counties combined. People who disagree with what they read next might do so by saying, his salary is fair, that to get top talent we must pay top dollar. Since most teachers I know are little more than paycheck-to-paycheck, that’s they are barely getting by on far less than top dollar I believe they might have a problem with at least the first part of that statement. I personally have a problem with the top talent part.

Let me ask you a question, what would you do if you could have a salary of 270 thousand dollars?

Would you sacrifice the future of some of the cities children by forcing elementary and middle school teachers to promote children that won’t be successful? The reason to do so is how many kids fail impacts a counties grade. The proof that it happens, a recent Times Union article pointed out that only about fifty percent of tenth graders read at grade level, yet strangely enough they somehow made it to tenth grade.

Would you allow children to progress through the school system with a false sense of how society works by ignoring discipline and withholding consequences for bad behavior? The reason to do so is because referrals and suspensions affect a districts grade. The proof that it happens, why else would how many children are suspended be tied to principal’s evaluations, unless the superintendent wanted to dramatically reduce the number.

Would you encourage kids who were ill prepared to take advanced placement courses to take them? The reason to do so is because the more students taking, not necessarily passing, advanced placement courses affect a districts grade. The proof that it happens, check out last years article in the Times Union to see how as the amount of children taking the tests has gone up the percentage of children passing them has gone way down. That and the fact that level 1 and level 2 children, kids who haven’t passed the f-cat are allowed to take A.P. classes, which are designed only for the most advanced children to take.

Would you pervert programs like grade recovery, that were originally designed to aid children who tried hard but just didn’t get it or children who had legitimate reasons for missing school like illnesses to make up classes, into programs that allowed any child to make up classes for any reasons regardless of effort, behavior or reasons for absences.

Would you allow principals to load up special education classes so they could divert more resources to regular education? Many special education children don’t have to take the f-cat and many of those that do it doesn’t matter how they do. At the school I teach at there were 20 or more students in trainable mentally handicapped (severely disabled children) classrooms. Experts say 8 would be a big classroom.

Would you put a positive spin on everything taking every opportunity to say that the state has given Duval County a B grade? If the counties graduation rate, 65 percent, was sole criteria for computing a counties grade we would have a grade of D.

Would you do anything to protect your job? What wouldn’t you do?

There are lots of numbers in education that the city should be worried about but the biggest one is 270 thousand.

Differentiated Curriculum

Differentiated curriculum, differentiated curriculum, differentiated curriculum is what teachers hear everyday. It’s the new mantra in education that the powers-that-be preach and it means meet your students where they are. Get down to their level and teach them up. Many schools don’t make it easy as they put students all across the board in the same classes but since teachers are used to a challenge they pull up their sleeves and do the best they can.

The problem is only teachers are expected to differentiate their curriculums in the current a one size fits all environment we find ourselves in.

Do you know what the difference in curriculum between the motivated student, who loves school and who has an I.Q of 130 and the unmotivated student, who doesn’t like school who has an I.Q. of 90 is? The answer, there is none.

Do you know what the difference in curriculum between the student who wants to be a brain surgeon, an artist and a mechanic is? The answer, there is none.

Do you know what the difference in curriculum is for the college bound students who plan to major in a liberal arts, science, business or math is? The answer there is none.

Do you know the difference in special diplomas between the special ed. student who after 12 years of school can’t spell their name or pick out colors and the special ed. student who just has a learning disability is? The answer there is none.

I believe all students should be able to read on grade level and have a similar proficiency in writing. I likewise believe all students should have a basic level of math say algebra I. Though I only took general math II as a junior and no math as a senior and went on to have multiple degrees. Then after that why don’t we differentiate our curriculum to service the needs and desires of as many students as we can?

We lump all students into one group and the city scratches it’s heads confused when some don’t make it. Then they nod their heads in agreement when the powers-that-be say it must be the fault of some children’s uninvolved parents or their teachers.

Maybe it’s time we differentiated our blame as well.

Rocket Science

I like it when the Times Union writes about education. Nothing plays a bigger role in every aspect of society. Education greatly affects both success and failure. Though as far as problems in education go I think the graduation rate is a bit over rated. If a child graduates prepared and capable to go to college or join the military or the workforce we should be okay if it takes them an extra year or two to do so. In this instance the destination is more important than how long the journey took.

The real problem is we are graduating children who aren’t prepared for college or to join the workforce or who wouldn’t last one day in the military. They either don’t have the skills or the demeanor to be successful. We do children no favors when we pass them along without the ability to be successful at the next level, instill in them a false sense of how the world works when we don’t give consequences for bad behavior and having just prepared them how to take one test, the f-cat.

If we want to make meaningful changes in education it wouldn’t take breaking the bank or reinventing the wheel to do so, it would take a return to the basics. Instead of preparing every child to be successful in a global economy, the school boards philosophy something they are woefully failing at, instead we should prepare every child to be a productive citizen. We do that is by holding children back until they have the skills to be successful at the next level, giving children meaningful consequences for inappropriate behavior, putting safety nets in place for children who need extra assistance and by developing multiple curriculums instead of the one size fits all curriculum we have now.

Unless we are teaching rocket science, this isn’t rocket science.

Newsweek part2
Newsweek asked why I thought Stanton and Paxon were bad for public education, this is what I told them.

Stanton and Paxon the two Jacksonville schools that made your list are unlike the other public high schools in our city. They recruit the cream of the crop of middle schoolers, to go them and then if a student is a discipline problem or does not maintain a 2.0 grade point average they are asked to leave. Furthermore the school board spends more resources on those schools and not only do they get many of the cities best and most motivated children, many of who are leaders and role models but they get many of the best and most involved families as well.

They not only don't play by the same rules as the other schools in Jacksonvilled and they are in effect stealing from them. This has serious and dreadful repercussions not only to those schools but to the city as a whole. Are those the types of schools you should have on your list?

I get it, people like lists but it seems to me your list should be about the best schools that play by the rules, work hard and succeed and not have schools, no matter how impressive they are, where success is guaranteed, that are playing with a stacked deck.

When our school board sees your articles they get enamored and expect all the schools, even the ones that have to take whoever they get and keep them despite behavior and ability or lack there of, to duplicate that success and when they can't the students and teachers there pay the price. When the public sees those lists they think things must not be that bad, when the truth is 11 of the 15 non magnet schools in Jacksonville, the neighborhood schools, are either failing (5 are considered drop out factories) or in a turn around status. Our crime rate high and our economy is weak and if we can trace those things back to education, then the fact that the city has put all it's eggs in two baskets, Stanton and Paxon while treating the rest of the cities children as second class has to have played a role in that.

Newsweek, the Washington Post and whoever else subscribes to this list are hurting our city and our children. If children are important to you as you say, you should stop including those schools.

Dear Newsweek
You recently selected a pair of Jacksonville’s schools as two of the best in the nation. You rated the Stanton college preparatory school as the nations third best and the Paxon School for advanced studies at number 8. Only Dallas Texas with two schools in the top five in the whole of the United States seemed more impressive.

I say seemed because in actuality your list has doomed many students in the same school system as those two to mediocrity and served to set Jacksonville back. Stanton and Paxon despite their impressive accomplishments, fantastic children and impressive staffs are hurting many of Jacksonville’s children that go to other schools. You see In Jacksonville where a child goes greatly determines their academic experience and that should not be acceptable in public education.

When you were compiling your statistics did you take into account that Paxon and Stanton recruit the best of the cities public school kids to go there? Did you take into account that those schools have a minimum grade point average and if a child doesn’t maintain it they are required to leave? Did you know that if a child is a discipline problem they are likewise required to find another school? Do you have any understanding what you have done to the rest of the city by promoting them?

The powers-that-be have become so enamored with the publicity that those two schools generate that they treat the other high schools in the counties like red headed step cousins with dirty hands. They can’t understand why the successes there can’t be duplicated elsewhere in the district. They don’t understand why Raines, Ribault, Jackson, and Forest high schools are considered drop out factories. Or why 11 of the cities 17 high schools are failing or in a turn around (struggling) status. The fact that many of their best students are siphoned away and those other schools aren’t allowed to play by the same rules as Stanton and Paxon might explain some of that.

Not only do those schools create a brain drain from the neighborhood schools but they also siphon away many of the most involved parents and families as well. Furthermore the two schools get resources that the neighborhood schools don’t receive which in effect means the kids that arguably need the resources the least are getting more than those that need them the most.

Furthermore if a cities crime rate and economy can be traced back to education then those two high schools despite their annual high rankings on your lists are partly responsible for exacerbating those problems in Jacksonville. Our city has an international airport, a world-class port and intersects two major highways. We have plenty of room for expansion and much of the infrastructure already in place to do so. Our climate is moderate, we’re located on the ocean, we have an NFL team and are close to entertainment hubs. Then we are a pro business city in a pro business state without a state income tax. Jacksonville should be fighting businesses off but we’re not and one of the reasons they site is our failing school system and this is with two of the top eight schools, according to your list, in the nation.

Then despite recent improvements after the hiring of hundreds of additional police officers our crime rate remains high. Part of the reason must be because we aren’t producing children ready for the work force or college. Instead all they are prepared for is the streets and public assistance. Stanton and Paxon are the equivalent of Nero playing the fiddle while Rome burned down around him. Sure the music is good but we have slightly more pressing problems.

Problems that you Newsweek make worse when you put Jacksonville’s public schools that don’t play by the same rules all the other public schools in the city are forced to play by on your list.

Newsweek magazine if your annual list is not just some stunt to draw in readers but it’s made because you really care about schools and education then for the sake of all of Jacksonville’s children and for the sake of our city itself please leave us off future lists.

Professional Development
I read Dawn Wilsons article about the importance of Professional Training with great interest, I am a teacher and believe that continuous professional development is important for both teachers and their students. Unlike Ms. Wilson I don’t believe it is the most important thing; that instead would be classroom discipline.

When I talk about discipline I don’t mean kids sitting up straight in neat rows afraid to move accept to raise their hand for even the most minor of requests. I think classes can be loud and appear chaotic but still have discipline. What I am talking about is children respecting the authority of teachers.

There is a teacher/student covenant. Children must follow, not always like or even understand, all reasonable requests from teachers. Teachers in exchange don’t ask unreasonable requests of them. Through this relationship meaningful learning can occur, without it now classes aren’t just appearing chaotic, they have descended into chaos.

If a teacher has to stop class just ten percent of the time to discipline an unruly student then all the other children have now lost 18 days worth of instruction, that’s almost a month of school wasted. Unfortunately teachers in many schools have to spend more than ten percent of their time disciplining.

This also isn’t a classroom management issue either. The vast majority of teachers can handle the kid in a bad mood or having a bad day. Unfortunately in our school system there are more and more incorrigible children who have no respect for authority which is bad but worse no fear of it either. One kid can hijack a whole classroom and will do so if nothing is done. So many kids wander the halls or act however they want with impunity. It’s nothing to them to curse and shout or even threaten a teacher. Sometimes they say, “Write me up, you’re the one who will get in trouble.”

Therein lies the problem one of the problems. So many teachers don’t write referrals anymore because their administrations often scrutinized or ridicule them for doing so. The teachers prefer to endure the toxic environment and pray that this kid or that kid won’t show up. Worse however is the fact that so often administrations don’t give consequences to the children for their behavior when they are written up. If a child is written up and receives no consequences for their behavior it invariably worsens, not improves.

Furthermore somewhere along the line a lot of kids stopped looking up to teachers preferring to make the tough or disruptive kid their role models. Then when they see this child not getting any consequences for their behavior often their behavior worsens as well. In effect the good kid has now learned from the maladaptive kid that it’s okay to act up, be disrespectful or worse. Imagine a row of dominoes. Once one falls they will all fall unless some type of intervention is done.

If a kid is acting up I shouldn’t have to stop class and call their parents. If a kid is acting up I shouldn’t have to stop class and explain myself to my administrators either. If a kid is acting up they should get a consequence and remember for a consequence to be effective it must be meaningful, for their behavior. It is that simple. After school, sure I can call the parent not that always does much good and talk to the administrator and unfortunately as things stand now, that often doesn’t do much good either.
In the end professional development is important but all of it in the world won’t make a difference is a teacher isn’t allowed to teach and either other children aren’t allowed to learn or they learn the wrong lesson from the wrong person. Sadly where often their hearts are in the right place, it’s not that uncommon that somebody from the district doesn’t know whats most important.

Just a few more notes about professional development, I couldn’t figure out how to fit it in above without it getting to long. Principals can allow teachers to go to the classes during the day or not and they can also assign classes. There have been classes I have been sent to where I thought, “Why am I here?” and others I wanted to go to that I wasn’t allowed to. I went to training once that had six instructors and we weren’t allowed to ask questions. A common joke in the county is how many district people does it take to hold a training? The answer is five, one to do it and four to sit around looking bored working on their nails. The Schultz center is a luxury. Every school has large meeting rooms where trainings could take place and since all the training is done by district people it could be done in the schools. I really do think training is important but so much of what is done could be more efficiently referred to teachers in an e-mail or a power point, after all for the most part it’s just district staff reading power points anyways. Then there is ESOL, on second thought I better pass on that, I am sure if you are reading this you want to get home to dinner at a reasonable time. Finally I get that I seem negative quite often and it wears on me, I used to be this, always a smile on my face where’s happy hour kind of guy, I miss him but it would be disingenuous of me not to say, so many of these district people main function is to justify their positions, not to help teachers or children.

Scheduled Failure
As I passed her in the library she had her arms folded under her chin and a frown on her face. She seemed really down so I asked her how she was doing. Fine, she replied but she did so the same way I do when everything is all but fine.

I considered moving on. If you let too many kids in it takes being a teacher from tough to heartbreaking. All of the children seem to have a story. A broken home there a lack of opportunity here. It can be overwhelming if you let it. This however was a good kid. Where her grades were very average all her teachers liked her as she is always polite and respectful and at least during class never failed to make an effort. During a previous conversation she told me how she wanted to be a music teacher someday and how she sang in a family gospel band. After hearing this and finding out and that she wasn’t taking music I introduced her to the schools music teacher in the hope that maybe they would make a connection and could set something up next year. I really love music, was one of the first things she had told me.

Like almost all my kids do, she deserved a little more than a, that’s cool, I’ll see you later, which is often all I can afford to give, from me.

So I asked, “well, how’s school going?” figuring we would either get to what was bothering her eventually or at the very least I would take her mind off her problem for a minute. She then looked up at me and this was the first time during this conversation that we had actually made eye contact and I instantly knew that while trying to take her mind off her problem I had found it.

School is actually one of the biggest problems that many children have. They don’t like it or aren’t interested in it. They are often too young to see the big picture and to realize how important it is. Many can’t really turn to their peers either as many feel the same way. Furthermore their parents aren’t much help either. So many of them are concentrating just on putting food on the table or getting barely by that they don’t have the time or energy to play that much of a role in their children’s education. They trust their kid’s schools to do it.

It turns out school was her problem and she was feeling overwhelmed with it. “Sometimes it’s just too much and I have nothing to look forward to.” she blurted out. I felt for her, many kids have hours of homework to do each and every night for subjects they aren’t or are at best just marginally interested in. I think homework is important but even though they seem to be growing up faster and faster so is being a kid. There is no light at the end of the tunnel for these kids.

Okay, I thought seeing the desperation in her eyes, “tell me what the problem is.”
She started, “It’s my schedule, on A days I have intensive math, intensive reading, biology and world history.” Her B day schedule was the same except biology and world history were replaced with geometry and English II. I did a double take; nowhere on her schedule was PE, art or what she loved the most, music.

Since she had made a two on the f-cat she was required to take both intensive courses which were offered every day. At no time when speaking to me did she mention that her teachers were mean to her or the amount of work she had to do. She also seemed to understand why she was in the classes she was in, though that wasn’t making it any easier on her.

I thought for a moment about what to say, and what I thought was, if I had a schedule like that I would probably be down and feel a little overwhelmed too. Though I knew just because I thought that, I definitely couldn’t say it.

I also didn’t want to say; well I have seen worse schedules, kids taking algebra I which is a prerequisite for geometry and geometry at the same time. Apparently prerequisite has some alternative meaning I was unaware of. Or that I have also seen kids taking English II and III in addition to multiple maths and that she was far from the only student without an elective on her schedule.

I didn’t want to say that the district in its zeal for preparing children for a global economy had no idea what it was like to be a kid today. They didn’t understand that there one size fits all philosophy was actually setting many children back.

I didn’t want to say things were the way they are because the math and science lobby was more aggressive and better financed than the art and music lobby. Actually I am not so sure art and music have a lobby though if they did they should be fired because they are just as important as math and science and it’s time somebody got a clue about that. It’s a shame those classes are always first on the chopping block.

I didn’t want to say, the truth is education is no longer about producing well rounded citizens capable of going to college or entering the workforce. Instead all children are is a line on a spread sheet which says, if this then that. Instead of playing to children’s strengths and desires something that would almost ensure success even in the classes they were marginally interested in, now the powers-that-be had decided that society would be better benefited by forcing all children into a single all inclusive curriculum.

I didn’t want to say sadly you’re enrolled in a school system that on one hand puts so many kids in no win situations and then on the other seems surprised when they don’t succeed. That it should be common sense that children have at least one class built into their schedule that they look forward to if for no other reason than to give them a break from all the core academic classes. Though making sure they wanted to go to school because they had something they were interested in or to look forward to isn’t such a bad reason either.

I didn’t want to say that I get why so many children drop out or quit. They are behind and fall farther and farther behind with their schedules, that there is no wiggle room. I get that they become over whelmed because they don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel and then turn to the streets or worse to fill their days.

I didn’t want to say any of those things so instead after I collected myself and I said, I’m sorry, and for a while that’s all I said. She looked at me as if she expected more, some words of wisdom to keep her going, some insight that it was going to get better. So after my long pause I followed up my initial, I’m sorry, with words to those effect.

I sincerely hope she believed my words more than I did.

One Teachers Prerogative
The City of Hope stories had a section about what educators and community leaders thought about the state of education. The Times Union printed quotes from thirteen people that are supposedly in the know. Though as you scanned the list, even though it said educators and community leaders, both plural it quickly became apparent that there was only one teacher, me, a special education science teacher at Westside high school that made the cut. That was it for the teacher camp. Well I have to tell you it’s a lot of pressure being the voice of the profession.

Though the truth is I don’t represent all the teachers here in the county, I just represent myself. I represent the fact that one day I got tired of being part of a system that set’s children back just as they are getting going. I got tired of having my e-mails asking questions and giving suggestions ignored, not Chris let’s talk about it, or Chris we think you are wrong about this one but ignored. It slowly dawned on me that my real job was just to move kids out, now if they learned something that was great but that was really secondary to passing them along. It also dawned on me that the tables had suddenly turned and now the children had the power. If I wrote somebody up suddenly I was the one under a microscope for that, not the child for what they had done, though it’s not like they get any real consequences anyways.

Help and support from my administrations suddenly became more tasks than I could do in a day and figure it out yourself and I also got tired of seeing my colleagues, good and decent men and women who give so much of themselves head home with circles under their eyes and with despair in their hearts. You see I like most teachers didn’t become one so we could have summers off. We did so to help children and over the last decade we have seen the system morph into something that is almost unrecognizable, which is heartbreaking for many. I don’t represent all teachers I represent the fact my heart was breaking every day I went to work and I felt like I was part of the problem.

At the same time it seemed to me as if the very profession of teaching was under assault and being tarnished. Present day teachers are put in nearly impossible situations without the support, resources or authority they need to do their jobs well. Then they are blamed when they don’t meet some arbitrary standards imposed by a group that has very little if any idea what they are doing. When I was growing up teachers were revered and respected, suddenly they became the scapegoat for what was wrong with education and the whipping boys for both out of control thugs in their classrooms and politicians in three piece suits.

Even after a few dozen publications and hundreds of posts on my face book page about the problems in education and what is going on here in Jacksonville I don’t consider myself as a foe of the district. On the contrary I consider myself an advocate for the children in my portable and the children who might one day be in my portable. They deserve to at least have a chance at being a productive citizen. I would like nothing more than for the district to improve so it gives more children a shot at that. Where I it’s true I often criticize, I just as often offer suggestions and alternatives.

I am also very pro teacher. Are there some people that shouldn’t be teaching? Sure but the vast majority are dedicated, skilled professionals who sacrifice so much to do their job and like children deserve an opportunity to succeed I feel teachers do too. Unfortunately the district often hand cuffs teachers and the way the system is set up many aren’t given much of a chance. I sincerely believe the better teachers are mentally and the more they are supported the better they will do for their children. I also think that they are the most important resource the district has and its way past time they started treating them that way rather than like mindless drones, who’s only purpose is to regurgitate what is put in front of them.

However like I said above in the end I don’t represent anybody but myself though I know more than a few teachers who feel and think like I do and if I can give them a voice, the once a month or so when the Times Union, Folio or some other publication prints me, than I am okay with that. Where I wish more teachers would speak up because I think if the public knew how things were they would clamor for change, I total get why they don’t.

The reason they don’t is because many teachers are afraid to speak up. They are scared that bad evaluations might tank their career. Their teaching assignment might change or they might lose their room. I have heard teachers say “I get so little help now, if I said something I would get even get less.” So many are literally afraid they will lose their jobs or there will be repercussions it makes enduring toxic learning environments more appealing.

Others figure they will wait things out because policies, procedures and programs here in Duval County are like the weather, wait long enough and they will change. Also I’ll be honest, if I had a family that depended on my pay check or if I was still in my probationary period I probably would have made different choices. However since I do a job not many people want, do it reasonably well and am past three years of service I feel a bit protected and able to express my first amendment rights, though that’s not to say things haven’t happened that have made me shake my head.

Two years ago just as I started to be published more my teaching assignment was suddenly changed a week before school began. I wasn’t asked, I wasn’t consulted I was just moved. I went from teaching trainable mentally handicapped children life skills to teaching varying exceptionality science, my degrees are in political science and psychology by the way and in school I stayed as far away from science as I could. I often have to teach myself before I teach the children. I get that I was moved then because there was a need and because I am relatively smart guy with a pretty affable style. Furthermore I did have some experience as I taught middle school science to severely emotional disturbed students for a few years a few years before.

However when a TMH class opened up instead of moving me back like I asked they hired somebody who was formally the V.E. science teacher at a high school just 10 miles from mine to take the position. Last summer another opening came up and I practically begged to be returned to my TMH classroom. Instead the administration hired somebody who’s only previous experience was in a V.E. classroom. Next year I am told there will be two more TMH openings but instead of moving me back I was told I would be co-teaching science in a regular ed. classroom and I would most likely be losing my room as well. Is all this because I write about the problems in education? I can’t say that for a fact. It really might be because of my easy going style and because I can pass a certification test but the things that have me scratching my head don’t stop there.

A teacher I never met before told me there was a rumor going around that the reason I wrote so much was because I was disgruntled over an action plan (teacher improvement plan). I was also required to get additional certifications and despite the fact evaluations were due months ago I have yet to receive mine for the 09-10 school year. Though I might just be imagining the distain my administration seems to have for me. However I have heard worse stories about the fate of other teachers who dared to ask questions.

Some teachers with a sigh and shrug of their shoulders just accept how things are saying to themselves it is how it is and muddle through though doing the best they can with what they got. Sadly though more and more are leaving the profession when they can’t take it anymore. Forty percent of teachers don’t last five years doing a job that many people mistakenly think is easy. A profession that many mockingly say “ that has summers off.”

Maybe it’s because teachers are usually silent on issues that they are rarely consulted about the problems. In recent weeks there was an education symposium put on by the business community, unfortunately it was held during school hours ensuring teachers couldn’t attend. Then Betty Burney of the school board has started to meet with students to find out their concerns, though it’s unknown if she plans to meet with teachers. This even though I offered to set a teacher round table for her and other school board members as I have done for the Times Union in the past. Maybe she has passed thus far because I said the teachers would have to be anonymous because many are afraid of retaliation.

I think the school board expects teachers to just be “good little soldiers” and accept whatever is thrown at them. I also think both groups, the school board and the business leaders have a bit of distain for teachers, after all it’s somebody’s fault so many kids are struggling and failing and since the job of a teacher is to teach.

I guess my point is, if you looked at the list of educators and community leaders and what they thought about education you might have gotten the opinion that teachers didn’t have a lot to say, that they were okay with how things are. If not surely more than me would have spoken up. Where I don’t represent all teachers I will with some confidence tell you, you are wrong, please don’t let their silence fool you. They are quiet not because they like how things are going; they are perhaps even more frustrated than many of you. They see firsthand how things are and don’t like it, they know things should and could be better. They are silent because they have so much to lose.

Amber Alert, 2
Next year the district is projected to lose 800 students. I guess that’s better than the 2000 we lost last year at the same time the city’s population increased by 7.1% (according to the chamber of commerce). Our school system should be growing but instead many families are opting to send their children to private schools or to home school them and that’s because the community is losing confidence in the school system. Families have either experienced or heard stories of schools run amok with discipline problems, they have seen the poor test scores, they are recognizing that the district has just one plan for their children regardless of desire and ability and understand that the f-cat is an albatross around the neck of education. They don’t buy the counties B grade from the state or the district continuously saying things are going well.

They aren’t the only ones either. Jacksonville has a good climate, plenty of room for expansion and much of the infrastructure needed to do so already in place. The city has two major interstates going through it, a world class sea port, and an international air port. We have a National Football League team, are on the ocean and are close to entertainment hubs. Finally and perhaps most important, we are a pro business city, in a pro business state without an income tax. Businesses should be fighting to come here but they are not and the biggest reason for that is because of our failing school system.

The only thing that seems to be growing is the population of our jails and our need for police. You can’t go a day without hearing or reading about a young person committing some terrible crime. One of the reasons for this is our schools have pushed children along and refused to discipline them. We have given many of them a false sense of how the world works while at the same time only taught them how to take one test. This, preparing children for a global economy line that the school board often uses sounds good but it shouldn’t trump the real purpose of schools and that’s the preparing of children to be good and productive citizens.

It would be remiss of me not to mention some of the good things. Despite our reputation Jacksonville actually has many wonderful educational things going on and I am not talking about the renowned dedicated magnet schools that serve only a small portion of the student body. I am talking about the thousands of teachable moments that take place daily between teachers and students, many of which occur despite the road blocks the district often puts in their way.

The really frustrating thing in all this is it wouldn’t take us blowing up the system or reinventing the wheel to make things improve; we also don’t need state of the art technology. If a child doesn’t have the skills to be successful at the next level they are held back until they have them. When a child misbehaves they get consequences for their behaviors. We put safety nets in place to help children catch up and to figure out why they are misbehaving if they continue to do so. Then we develop alternative curriculums that serve all the children rather than just relying on one curriculum that services just a few.

If we want meaningful change, if we truly care about the future of Jacksonville’s children and Jacksonville itself, let’s try those things.

Our education system is broken and the proof is right there in the data that 7% of Raines Sophomores read at grade level or higher. The question should be how were these children allowed to get to high school without the skills to be successful there? The answer is they were pushed along, the district strategy being to cross its fingers and hope a miracle happens.

Then in high school unable to do the work often saddled with two math and English classes at a time, the district and our city scratch their heads and wonder why so many fail or drop out, while simultaneously blaming teachers for their poor performances. If a high school teacher takes a child on a forth grade level and raises them to a sixth grade level that’s a tremendous gain but they still aren’t on a high school level. They still won’t pass a rigorous class or the f-cat.

It would be a mistake to blame our elementary and middle school teachers for this dilemma. They are put in an unattainable situation where many are literally forced to pass children they know aren’t ready.

How many of these children were required to attend mandatory after school tutoring or go to summer school in an effort to catch them up? The answer is very few if any. Our district is like a car company that doesn’t fix a tire problem because it’s cheaper to pay a few settlements here and there for lost lives rather than fix the problem.

Wouldn’t it be better to make things right even if it requires children to fail a grade or two, go to summer school or be required to stay after school for mandatory tutoring? Isn’t that better than pushing them along until they are either overwhelmed or too far behind to catch up? Isn’t graduating with the skills to be successful more important than graduating on time?

You know what the most maddening thing is? It’s the Data. Data, which says the district, pushes children along with out the skills to be successful and the community collectively shrugs its shoulders as if to say; it’s all right; it’s not a big deal, we’re okay with the district harming children.

Our children’s success should be a big deal. Our school district should do the right thing, even if it isn’t the easy thing.
Money Problems?
After reading the quotes and stories from the first round of the City of Hope series I have found a common theme and that’s money or the lack of it. I have written several times about how under funded schools are however my opinion is starting to change. I am not so sure anymore and at the very least understand how a large portion of the city doesn’t want to pay any more money to improve our schools.

The district has plenty of money for new books, and computers, new buildings and expensive firms to gage how we spend money; it’s recently increased the travel budget, put money aside for private attorneys and has a superintendent who makes over a quarter of a million dollars and about thirty others, none of who work directly with children, make over a hundred thousand.

During last years financial crisis the vast majority of teachers got new laptops and printers. During this years financial crisis the school board recently approved 40 million dollars in new construction and spent a million dollars on new cars. Furthermore did you know the district has over four thousand employees that don’t work directly with children and many of those are not part of the support staff but belong to a thick and expensive level of middle management.

There are needs galore not being met but I am starting to think it’s not because of a lack of money. It’s because of a lack of priorities.

Say in the future schools did get all the funding they desired, what good would it do if we continued to promote children who didn’t have the skills to be successful at the next level; what good would it do if we continued to ignore discipline, giving children a false sense of how the world works and what good would it do if we continued to force all children regardless of desire or ability into the same one track curriculum. The answer is none, we would still have the same problems, we would just have them in state of the art classrooms and the kids would have brand new books instead of old ones to ignore.

Frank Denton
Times Union editor Frank Denton wrote: Too many of our children are disadvantaged from birth, with unskilled or uncommitted parents, often living in deteriorated neighborhoods. They’re poorly nourished, literally and intellectually. They’re not ready for school, nor the schools for them. They’re lured, or infected, by the streets, and the cycle continues.

It’s easy to assign blame — parents, neighborhoods, schools, the Legislature, police and courts. But everyone shares responsibility for addressing the pathologies that afflict our young people — the cumulative impact of poor child-rearing, failure in school, unemployability and criminal mentality — spiraling across generations.

He is right there are plenty of both problems and blame to go around.

The thing is schools can’t fix what's broken in society. That’s not what they are designed to do. Schools only have the children for a few hours a day for a little less than half the year. Children's families and neighborhoods have them the rest of the time. To expect schools to make more than a dent is unrealistic.

That’s not to say that if education is done right it can’t lead to meaningful change. Unfortunately therein lies the problem, education here in Duval county is not done right. Instead of making children's lives better we exacerbate the problems that they and society already have.

When child are allowed to run wild and act however they want at home and at school that’s what they learn is acceptable. When children aren’t pushed or challenged at home or at school then they learn that effort isn’t required. Duval county schools has created a whole generation of children who believe however they act is fine and that everything should be handed to them. And why wouldn't they schools haven't showed them any different. Education and the city will never improve as long as that is the case.

Instead of preparing all children to compete in a global economy something we are failing to do, shouldn't we instead be preparing all students to be productive members of society. Schools during the limited time they have the cities children need to give them a snap shot of how the real world works. You work hard there will be rewards. You don't or misbehave there will be consequences.

Of all the things we need to do as a society, isn’t that where we should start?

Blame Game
When asked about the fact that so many students need to take remedial classes upon entering college, Pratt-Dannals blamed the college-placement test, saying the results are flawed because some material on the test isn’t emphasized in Duval schools. He was unable to provide any specific examples.

In another article in the City of Hope series he sited teacher quality and parental involvement as factors for Jacksonville’s poor state of education. Do you see a disturbing pattern here?

The truth is Duval County does an excellent job with about a third of the cities students, those at the top and who are motivated to do well. We have magnet programs, I.B. programs and offer lots of advanced placement classes. It’s the other two thirds of children where the county falls short. Those children we push along without the skills to be successful and for them all we concentrate on is teaching them is how to take the F-Cat. Then we wonder why they drop out, don’t graduate on time or aren’t ready for college or employment.

Do you know what the difference in graduation requirements is for a student who has no interest in school and who has an I.Q. of 75 and a highly motivated student with an I.Q. of 130? The answer is there is none. Every child regardless of desire or ability is put into the same one-size fits all curriculum.

As a county we graduate sixty-five percent of our children but the percentage we actually prepare for life is much lower.

Who’s fault is it Really?
Superintendent Ed Pratt-Dannals said teacher quality and parental involvement are key factors in improving schools, in the first installment of the Times Union, City of Hope Series.

Again the superintendent blames teacher and parents for the quality of education here in Jacksonville but strangely omits his and the school boards leadership from the lsit of culprits.

Mr. Pratt-Dannals you might be unaware of this but teachers did not have a secret meeting and decide to gut discipline. Teachers did not one day vote to pass kids along without the skills to be successful at the next level and teachers certainly did not decide to create a one size fits all curriculum that dooms so many children before they even get started. These policies came from 1700 Prudential drive.

One of the biggest problems we have had here in Duval County is leadership or should I say a lack of it. From the current and past school boards made up of politicians on their way up or way down and casual observers who don’t understand what it means to be a teacher or a student in today's society to our superintendents who have been more preoccupied with appearing to do whats right than what is actually right.

There are a lot of factors and actors that have led us to where we are now. If he is going to point the finger at teachers and parents perhaps he should point the finger his way too.

Was it worth it?
The headline said: First coast schools make strides on the F-Cat but when we read the article all we saw was a very celebrated one percent gain in English here in Duval County. The math scores despite a Herculean 49 percent gain at John Love elementary stayed the same.

Duval’s gains, (and again it was just a one percent gain in reading), were due to more professional development, quality coaching, an assessment system that allows teachers to quickly gauge how students are doing on assignments and more rigorous K-3 classes, said Kathy LeRoy , the district’s chief academic officer. She failed to mention the yoke the district put on the backs of teachers forcing them to collectively work hundreds of thousands of unpaid over time and all the superfluous to education, tasks they had teachers do.

Like never before teachers have been forced to teach just to the test. In this Data driven world they were required to make extensive data notebooks that basically gave teachers the same information they would get for working with children for a few days or weeks. Teachers were also required to spend untold hours making complicated lesson plans that for the most part were only looked at and used when visitors from the district or state wandered into their rooms. Then in most classrooms throughout the county teachers were required through word walls and board configurations, artifact maps and communication logs look the same. Lets also not forget that learning schedules and pacing guides are what the district has used to replace creativity and flexibility.

I am not saying some of the above doesn’t or can’t play a role in education. I am saying look at the returns, look how effective all the changes they have been making have been.
Is the counties one percent increase worth forcing teachers to be away from their families and work ten-hour days? There are diminishing returns here, teachers are working harder than ever before but the district is doing all it can to make sure they aren’t working smarter than ever before.

What kind of returns would we have had if we had said to teachers instead of spending thousands of hours on complicated lesson plans? Get creative, be original develop activities that your kids will find beneficial, do the things you thought you would be able to do when you decided to dedicate your lives to children. What would have happened if instead of sucking the life and moral out of teachers with in some cases thousand page data notebooks administrations backed them up when kids misbehaved or told them that kids learning is what’s important not following some cookie cutter formula. I am guessing better than a one percent one.
And all this for the F-Cat the albatross around the neck of education.

Schools are no longer producing good citizens or despite what they scream at 1700 prudential drive children ready to enter a global marketplace. Instead schools are creating a generation of test takers and just one test at that. In the powers-that-be zeal, which for the most part is made up of a group that is far removed from the classroom, they have created a tool that has done more harm than good. It’s time they cut the head off this beast, admit they may made a mistake, apologize to all the children whose lives they have handicapped or ruined, employers that are having a hard time finding a capable workforce and cities they have saddled with rising crime rates and move on.

In some school districts they have started giving their “comprehensive tests” at the beginning of the year. This way teachers and students are not forced into a high stakes test-taking environment. Perhaps more importantly those school districts are given a heads up on the deficiencies that a child might have so they can work on them and design curriculums for them. Isn’t this information better to be known in August when something can be done than in June when kids leave for the summer and it’s to late?

If we don’t like that what about giving pretests at the beginning of each nine weeks and then post tests at the end of them. In between tell teachers what needs to be covered and then get out of their way. Like some students have different learning styles, teachers have different teaching styles as well. The state and district shouldn’t be so concerned with inputs, how a teacher teachers, but instead out puts, what a child learns. If we did it this way we could have quarterly updates on both students and teachers. We could figure out those in both groups that need the extra help.

Is either of these ideas perfect? I don’t know, but what I do know is right now what we have is a disaster. It’s ridiculous the expectations those at the district and state levels put on the shoulders of both teachers and students. Teachers are put in no win situations and then blamed them when things don’t work out. At the same time the system puts so much pressure on kids while at the same time sucking the job out of learning it’s a wonder and a tribute to the fine teachers we have that more don’t fail.

Then the district, which seems more interested in propagating their own existence than truly education children sits back and celebrates a one percent gain.

Like Eric Smith in the article did, I want to congratulate all the teachers’ hard work and commitment to their students. Unlike Eric Smith and the disconnected group at 1700 Prudential drive I understand all that you have to do and the sacrifices you make. I also wish you toiled in a system that really appreciated your efforts, treated you with the respect and dignity you deserved and allowed you to do what was best for your students instead of handcuffing you.

History will Judge
History will judge the current generation by its ability to solve the public education crisis, is what a local business leader and former governor of West Virginia Bob Wise told Jacksonville CEOs Wednesday at the graduate now summit hosted by the United Way. What a ridiculous statement because if things continue on the path they are now, future generations won’t be able to judge anything through history because they both won’t understand it or be able to read it.

Once again business and community leaders met to discuss the state of education in Jacksonville. If that sounds familiar it’s because it happens every few months or so. They do it so they can both point to statistics that say high school graduates make and spend more money, while shaking their fists, demanding something must be done and so they can appear to be doing something. I say appear because they have been having meetings like this for years now and they have almost nothing to show for them. In fact many people, who are in the know, teachers and parents, think things are getting worse. Jacksonville has a graduation rate of 65% which sadly is a bit misleading because a significant amount of new graduates aren’t prepared for college, working or anything.

If Jacksonville’s business and community leaders are truly interested and serious about improving education and to be honest I have my doubts after all it’s much easier to talk about change than do what is necessary to make sure it happens, the first and far the most important thing they need to do is lobby the state government to properly fund education. Mentors, community tutors and blue ribbon commissions are nice but what the school system needs is money.

Education needs mandatory longer days and summer school opportunities for children who need extra help. Education needs social workers and mental health counselors because quite often why children act up or don’t try at school has nothing to do with what is going on in school. Education needs more restrictive alternative programs to send children that hijack the learning environment to. Then education also needs multiple tracks so children can learn the arts, skills and trades as well. What do all these things have in common besides the fact we aren’t either doing them now or to the degree we should be? They cost money.

At the summit superintendant Pratt Dannals said “…we’re one great community away from being a great school system. It takes both.” In a way he’s right. Schools are not platforms for fixing the ills of society, though if done correctly school districts can enhance a city and can be immensely beneficial. Some cities crown jewels are its school system. Jacksonville’s schools unfortunately aren’t doing it right; instead of making things better they are exacerbating our cities problems. It’s not just the abysmal drop out and graduation rates that I am talking about either. In our city we can’t go a day without hearing about a young person committing some terrible crime. Businesses are likewise having difficult times finding capable, productive, and reliable workers. These are also some of the problems that Jacksonville’s public school system is contributing to.

When children don’t get consequences for their behavior it worsens. When children are pushed along from grade to grade they are rendered incapable of learning or being productive. When all children are forced into a one size fits all curriculum we shouldn’t be surprised when more and more don’t make it. When children drop out of school, don’t know how to behave or function in society we also shouldn’t be surprised that many turn to public assistance, crime or worse.

Jacksonville has serious problems that aren’t going to fix themselves either through cooking the books which is what the school board has been doing, by ignoring discipline, scrubbing children’s grades and encouraging children to take advanced placement tests they aren’t ready for or by having summits where the business elite get together to pat each other on the back and say something must be done. After all this is what we have been doing for a while and if you want proof of how successful it’s been, look at Duval Counties graduation rates over the last few years, 02-03, 63.7%, 03-04, 67.2%, 04-05, 65.5%, 05-06, 60.5%, 06-07,64.3%, 07-08 65.9%.

That’s our recent history. You be the judge of how we are doing.

Brenda Priestly Jackson
I wasn’t surprised to see that School Board member Brenda Priestly Jackson was going to run for city council. The school board has long been a stepping stone for politicians on their way up or on their way down and this has dramatically affected the state of education in Jacksonville.

She joins current and recent members Stan Jordan who left early to run for a vacated senate seat,
W.C. Gentry who filled Jordan’s seat only after his senate bid failed and Tommy Hazouri who has a long history of public service though the only qualifications I see for him to be on the school board is that his wife is a teacher. Nobody on the school board has been in a classroom let alone in a Duval County classroom this century.

Would you put your sick child’s fate in the hands of a doctor who hadn’t practiced medicine in over a decade? What about somebody who has never practiced medicine as there are several member of the school board who have never worked in public education. Yet over and over Jacksonville has put its blind faith in candidates who have substituted hubris, the belief they know it all, for actual knowledge and ability.

After providing for its citizens safety, providing an education for its children is the most important job of any society, and it’s a job we are failing to do for so many of our youth. The city and its children are in trouble and a lot of this is because casual observers and career politicians have meddled with education and ran it into the ground. Remember this when you vote for Brenda Priestly Jackson’s or any other school board members replacement.

Question and Answers
After reading the article about the school boards question and answer session with a group of Terry Parker students it left me with a few questions of my own.

The school board visited Terry Parker to talk to its students the other day and it made the news. They last met with students in December. My first question is why aren’t board members in the schools talking to its students and staff on most days?

The students reported that they were steered to Advanced Placement classes instead of dual enrollment. Don’t the children know that the more students who take A.P. tests the better our district grade is? That’s take, not pass by the way.

One of the students said they thought some teachers were just here to help make sure they pass the class. Since actually educating children has become secondary to appearances doesn’t this mean that those teachers are doing the job the district wants them to do?

Councilman Clay Yarborough said that feed back about the F-Cat concerned him. Where has his concern been for the last ten years as this albatross of a test has hung around the neck of education? Superintendant Pratt-Dannals said he heard that teachers who engage and motivate students are the most effective. I wonder if he ever thinks about how teachers who weren’t micromanaged, required to work ten-twelve hour days, were given proper resources and support and were allowed to use creativity and flexibility would do.

Finally one student said, “It seemed like they really cared about what we thought.” I am sure you have your own questions about that. That’s if you don’t already have the answer.

Ripped from the Headlines
Law and Order often bills itself as being ripped from the headlines, last night’s was not, not yet anyways. It featured a teacher pushed to the end of the rope who planned to take a school down with him.

At one point an actor playing an attorney for the teachers union asked a question. Why would a teacher snap? Is it because they are micromanaged by the department of education, they spend their own money to take care of other people children, they are given all the responsibility and none of the authority or is it because they are daily victims of assault and disrespect?

I watched this scene with my mouth open and thought was this soliloquy ripped straight from one of my submissions? Then I thought, how long will it be until a Law and Order featuring a teacher really snapping will be ripped from the headlines.

Fail em’ all
The Times Union says we are failing young black males pointing to the fact that only one in four graduate high school, and where I completely agree with that, hey Times Union we’re not doing much better with young white males either. In fact how good of a job are we doing with any of our students if only a little over six in ten graduate.

The Times Unions solution however is wrong. The answer shouldn’t be vouchers and charter schools that take much needed resources away from the public school system; the answer should be to make the public school system better. And even though their hearts may be in the right place, The Times Union right and the group calling itself, Reclaiming young black males for Jacksonville’s Future, are missing the boat. Especially since the boat is sinking and talking so many of our students down with it.

Why can’t the public schools adopt some of the policies from the successful private school the paper references in its editorials? Where I am not completely sold on school uniforms we could have them and barring that we could at least change and strictly enforce the dress code. At a recent during school party I thought I was in the middle of a girls gone wild video and I can’t tell you how many pants around the knees, boxer combos I see daily. Schools often choose not to fight those battles because there are so many more battles going on.

Also why can’t public schools require students to stay longer after school? Hey little Johnny I see that you failed math would you like to stay after and get some tutoring? No? Okay we’ll see you tomorrow. This is what we do now. Why isn’t it, Johnny everyday you’re staying after for two hours until you get that math grade up and there will be no ifs, ands or buts about it.

Is it really any wonder why we have so many dropouts? We socially promote until there is nowhere to go and sink or swim is the their only option. We eliminate class after class that children enjoy like art, music and other electives and replace them with classes many aren’t prepared for or interested in, like algebra II and chemistry, when the best plan is having a good mix of both. Furthermore we just have a one size fit’s all curriculum that says every child if going to go to continue their education, do so right after high school and finish within four years. This is absurd not every child has the appetitive or desire to do that, but we wedge them in classes regardless of that and then shake our heads in wonderment when they stop showing up.

The school system is not designed to fix what is wrong in society but it should never make society worse and that’s what our system is doing in many cases. It doesn’t say to the children from tough surroundings, what’s happening in your neighborhoods and homes isn’t how it is supposed to be. At school from the moment you get here to the moment you leave we’re going to show you how it is. Hard work will be rewarded and there will be consequences for bad behavior. Instead in many instances schools tolerate bad behavior and don’t instill anything approaching a work ethic or citizenship in its students.

Jacksonville doesn’t need vouchers or charter schools. Jacksonville doesn’t need groups just concerned with one segment of the population especially since so many aren’t reaching their capabilities. What Jacksonville needs is a leader who is going to stand up and say, Duval County schools will no longer pass kids along without the skills they need to be successful at the next level. Duval schools will remove children that disrupt the learning process stopping teachers from teaching and other students from learning. Then we’re going to do what we can to get them help and find out why they are acting that way.

We need a leader who stands up and says we’re going to have more after school and summer school opportunities and we’re going to develop curriculums that serve children interested in trades, skills and liberal arts subjects and I am going to go into the community and turn over every rock and beat every drum until I get the resources to make it happen because the children of Jacksonville deserve it and we as a city can’t survive and prosper without it.

That not vouchers, charter schools and organizations that support just one group of children is both what Jacksonville needs and what it is lacking.

A bill of goods
The following is in generalities, not absolutes.

I was sold a bill of good. I was hoodwinked and bamboozled. I didn’t land on Plymouth Rock, Plymouth Rock landed on me. Above isn’t just a line from a Spike Lee movie its how teachers all around the city, state and nation feel. Many go to work and think this is not what I signed up for.

What they did sign up to do was help children and to make a difference in their lives but instead they have been hamstrung by politicians and casual observers whose quick fixes have done more harm than good. They are constantly being told by disconnected administrations to do things they know are contrary to a productive learning environment or at best only have a peripheral relationship to the education process that don’t justify the time and effort put into them. They are forced to live pay check to pay check while working untold hours away from their families and along with many of their students are forced to toil in learning environments hijacked by an unruly few because they receive no support from the higher ups whose only job should be to support them.

In short they have entered a dystopian world where perception shadows reality and the reality is the school system is letting so many teachers and kids down. It’s pushing children along without the skills they need to be successful at the next level, it has replaced consequences for bad behavior with an altered view of the world where children feel entitled and like they can say and do whatever comes to their mind no matter how inappropriate and has lumped them all into the same go to college group whether they have the aptitude or desire or not. Then as kids fall through the cracks and aren’t successful, the system turns around and blames the teachers. Teachers aren’t fighting a losing battle where they attempt to just tread water; they are pushed blindfolded into the deep end of the pool with weights tied to their ankles. They live a metaphorical mob hit. Then when they raise their hands and go this isn’t right they are hit with bad evaluations and told their jobs are in jeopardy.

Is above filled with statements designed to fill you with both dread and anger? You bet it and that’s because you should be both scared and mad so much that you decide you’re not going to take it anymore.

Undoubtedly every era has had problems but in the mid eighties the United States was considered the number one nation in the world in educating its children. Now just twenty-five years later we have slipped considerably as countries like Korea, Finland and Slovenia have zoomed past us.

What’s changed? How about the fact politicians and casual observers inserted themselves into the education process and started to meddle. These people in far off ivory towers or seats of government decided they not the teachers in the classrooms knew what was best and the education system has suffered for it. These people now make up the leadership in education and if you have read above you know how I feel. How do you feel? Do you like the direction that education is heading?

Teaching now is so different from what it was just a decade ago. Gone are creativity and flexibility replaced by unyielding pacing guides and learning schedules. Gone are multiple curriculums that serve more children, replaced by an everybody is going to college mantra. Gone is discipline replaced with toxic learning environments where teachers can’t teach and children that want to can’t learn. Gone is accountability because the system is so messed up it’s hard to tell who is effective or not. Gone is adequate funding replaced with lies about the lottery and tax breaks to yacht owners and bottled water businesses. Gone is leadership replaced with a sense of self preservation from the powers-that be as they massage data so they appear to look better, cajole teachers into passing children without skills and make changes just for the sake of making changes so they can shout, look at me I am doing something. Gone are generations of children’s chance to be productive members of society replaced with them becoming minimum wage workers with little or know potential for advancement, living off the dole of the government, locked behind bars or worse. Gone are the hopes and dreams of so many children replaced with the realization that they are unprepared for life whether it be college, the job force or even simple everyday interactions where either civility or critical thinking is required. Gone is the time when teachers were heroes to be looked up to, replaced with a lack of respect and being blamed for falling short when put in impossible situations.

It’s all gone, gone, gone.

Gone is my enthusiasm for heading to school realizing where I realize am part of a system run by disconnected observers that reward who they like and don’t even really pretend to do the one thing they are supposed to do, help kids.

Maybe that last part in absolute.

Bob Hurner
It’s shameful Chris, it’s absolutely shameful. These are the words Bob Hurner spoke to me the other day when speaking about the fate of the mentally handicapped students at Ed White high school. After he sighed he continued, there’s 17-20 kids in a class now and next year we’re losing just a handful (disabled children can stay in school until they are 22) and we’re supposed to get 20 or so more. He didn’t say it but this meant that the classrooms for severely disabled children would continue to have more students than many of the regular education classrooms do.

When Bob Hurner talks I listen, not only has he been teaching for 32 years but he is also a friend and mentor to many and the heart and soul of the Ed White special education department, which is kind of a big deal. In case you didn’t know it Ed White has become the unofficial magnet school for disabled children servicing a little less than four hundred children, by far the most of any in the city. This includes almost seventy of the most disabled children we have, the trainable kids that Bob teaches.

When he started teaching a group of eight trainable mentally handicapped children in a class considered a big one. These children learn very slowly if at all and need small group or one on one instruction to be able to do so. Now they are herded into classes where because of their size learning is practically impossible but it’s even worse than that. It used to be that these children were taught basic life skills and employment skills but now the district is requiring the teaching of access points which are watered down grade level academics. Children who can’t tell you where they live are now being taught about the layers of the Earth and other subjects that they have no chance of actually leaning. Bob shrugs his shoulders and says; progress is slow. The typical trainable mentally handicapped child has an I.Q. less than fifty. They will never live alone or hold a job or get married and have kids or do any of the things that most of us take for granted. They will need a lifetime of care and what school they attend in Duval County determines the level of care they receive now.

I have written something similar many times in the past discussing dedicated magnet schools verses neighborhood schools but perhaps this plays an even bigger role when talking about disabled students. Let’s compare Palm Avenue the center school on the Westside for severely and profoundly disabled children, the same category that Ed White’s trainable children would fall into and Ed White. Palm Avenue has 157 children. Serving these children are 14 classroom teachers and four resource teachers. The seventy children at Ed White have five teachers and a part time P.E. coach. Children at Palm Avenue have matrix numbers (how they are funded) of 254 and 255 where the children at Ed White have matrix numbers of 252 and 253. This literally creates a disparity in funding of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Furthermore classes at Palm Avenue have an average size of 10-12, they have several sheltered workshops where the children learn employability skills and a pace lab where they learn basic living skills too. On the other hand in the near future the trainable mentally handicapped children at Ed White will be losing the computer lab they use. The program they were doing, fast forward (the same reading program they use at, and you probably guess it, Palm Avenue), is being phased out. It’s shameful Chris, it’s absolutely shameful, are the words Bob Hurner spoke to me the other day when speaking about the fate of the mentally handicapped students at Ed White high school.

I asked Bob why it was this way. He said, it’s simply that there isn’t enough time to document everything (how you get money) and teach. Not only am I teaching and working on the IEP’s (Individual Education Plans) of the students in my classes but I have to write so many IEP’s for students not in my classes that there’s no time to do anything like it should be done. Not only could I hear the anguish in his voice but I could empathize as well. At Ed White there are sixteen special education teachers, two less than they have at Palm Avenue, for nearly 400 students and in addition to teaching and writing IEP’s for the students in our classes we all also write numerous IEP’s for children we don’t teach and sadly a lot of these children are falling through the cracks as well.

At a recent shared decision making committee meeting I suggested we do a comprehensive check of all students to see if they were placed in an appropriate academic program. When I did a cursory check I found in less than an hour, 30 special education students in regular education classes that had grade point averages that started with zero. I also suggested that these students may be misplaced and if so we should look into moving them to appropriate placements. I was told by the administer that attended; that’s nothing, what about all the regular education students whose grade point averages start with zero. In effect the message was that since one group was failing we should allow the second group to continue to fail as well. Welcome to the Duval County school system.

I really feel for Bob. He is a great guy that cares. He goes out of his way for many teachers, including me who he took me under his wing when I arrived at Ed White. He showed me around, answered all my questions and made sure I had what I needed. Even today four years later no matter how busy he is he always has time. I also feel for the students he teaches. I started as a trainable teacher at Ed White and have seen the numbers in the classes double with no end in sight. Learning already difficult enough for these children has become nearly impossible, while at the same time children with the exact same disabilities attending other schools receive dramatically more and appropriate resources.

President Jimmy Carter wrote: The measure of a society is found in how they treat their weakest and most helpless citizens. If that’s the case we are failing as a society here in Jacksonville. If that’s the case then what we are doing is like Bob said, shameful and no matter what successes the local school system might enjoy it doesn’t mitigate that fact.

Tonya Weathersbee
Times Union columnist Tonyaa Weathersbee’s blog, Family issues have a way of intruding into school life, showed both the strength and weakness of the school system. In it she spoke about how a young man after an innocuous comment from his principal launched into a profanity laced tirade made worse when he threatened violence.

Somehow the principal remained calm and not only diffused the situation but was able to find out the cause behind it. It seems the boy was having family problems and he brought his troubles to school with him. The principal got in touch with the family and helped them work the situation out. He in affect became a parental figure, a confident, a social worker and a friend to the child which is what so many teachers and administrators become to so many students, however at the end the principal needed to be a disciplinarian as well.

I am not saying he should have thrown the book at the child but there has to be some consequence when children curse out and threaten adults. Furthermore just because they have had a bad day, or week or year is not mitigating enough a reason for a pass. What would happen to you if after a bad day you cursed out and threatened your boss?

When kids don’t receive consequences for their behavior, their behavior usually gets worse but even worse, is what about all the children that saw the exchange and then the student back in his classes an hour later. They most likely learned a lesson as well and not the kind schools should be teaching but all too often do? Going to school shouldn’t be just about reading, writing and arithmetic; it should also be about learning how to be a productive and respectful citizen. A lesson schools fail to teach when they fail to discipline.

I sincerely hope this young man and his family work their problems out. I just hope the way the principal handled it and up to the end he did so masterfully, doesn’t cause more problems down the road.

Travel Delay
Last fall during a panel discussion on magnet schools at the channel 7 studios representatives of the Duval County School Board almost defiantly announced they do not spend any more money on advanced academic programs, than they do on standard education programs. Well Ms. Mann in her letter to the editor talking about the necessity of an increased travel budget indicated something to the contrary. She said the extra money was needed to train teachers how to work with advanced students. When she wrote this I believe she publicly revealed one of the worst kept secrets in Duval County education and that’s unless you are a student who attends one of the academic magnet schools or are in one of the advanced programs then you don’t matter in Jacksonville. Where is the travel budget to train teachers to reach the hundreds of students at my school alone, whose grade point averages start with zero? These are students who arguably need the resources more.

I work in the school system. I believe in training and travel budgets and I have seen how draconian cuts are hurting children but what Ms. Mann doesn’t get and what I doubt anybody at 1700 Prudential drive gets, is that when the school board spends money on travel or new cars or lawyers or on anything but children, then people don’t believe that education is experiencing a financial crisis. They think, “If they can spend money on extra travel, then they must have plenty of money.” This is made worse since everybody knows we are now living in the age of the internet and teleconferencing, where global training and information can often be had locally with a few keystrokes.

I really wonder if anybody at the school board went to the providers of the grants and said, “Sadly we are experiencing a terrible financial crisis and we’re 250 thousand dollars short. We can find it but it is going to cost some art teachers their jobs, can we please travel less until things improve?” I seriously doubt anyone did.

Teachers Apply Here
When I looked at the list of those running for the school board I couldn’t help but feel a bit disheartened. It seemed to me that for the most part the candidates were either politicians looking for another line on their resumes or casual observers who thought to themselves, hey I can fix things. Of the eleven, there were only two who had any direct and current experience working with children in Duval County as teachers, Becky Couch and John King. The article went on to ask each candidate to identify their main points.

Admittedly it’s hard to look at a blurb from each and decide who to vote for especially since they all seemed to have reasonable and important key issues. So to separate them I put them into two groups, teachers on one side and politicians and casual observers on the other. Then I thought that our school board is already made up of the second group and I have long thought they are doing a poor job. Ask yourself how you feel about the job they have been doing.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that not one member of the current school board has taught in a Duval County classroom in over a decade and where we find ourselves as a school district. When you have legal questions do you consult a lawyer or somebody who watches a lot of cop shows on television? When you have medical issues do you talk to a nurse or a doctor or somebody who was once sick? Of course you talk to the professional and since that is the case why do we continue to look to former politicians and casual observers of education to solve the problems there.

I am not saying teachers have all the solutions, though I think they would have a better chance than others to figure things out. After all they are the ones in the trenches day in and day out, seeing what does and doesn’t work, agonizing over what the children need and what we don’t provide. What I am saying is the way we have been doing things has led us to where we are now and where we are now isn’t pretty and if all things are equal I am going to vote for a teacher.

My buddy Mike
Its day three of the Mike (not his real name) watch. Mike is a teacher buddy of mine who was in an altercation with a student at my school, it wasn’t a fight but hands were placed on each other. Because of it he now languishes at Bulls Bay, a sort of purgatory for teachers. It’s a big warehouse in the middle of nowhere, where surplussed desks, computers and sadly, teachers go.

I asked him how he was doing and he said he was hanging in there; that he had been keeping busy cutting out pictures of ducks and separating bins. He’s there waiting for an investigation into what happened to occur, an investigation that will determine if he keeps his job or not. “Nobody’s talked to me yet but hopefully it will happen soon, after all they know where to find me.”

Mike is a regular education reading teacher and before this happened if you would have listed from most likely to least likely which teacher would get into it with a student he would have been on the least side.

When I asked what happened Mike told me; “The kids always bouncing off walls and has something to say but usually he’s manageable unless he’s having a bad day and it’s easy to tell if he’s going to have a bad day or not.” he paused, “and as soon as he walked in and threw his backpack to the ground I knew this was going to be a bad one.” Mike then went on to explain, it wasn’t long before he had no choice but to send the student out, “It wasn’t just the disrespect to me that was the problem but he was just out of his seat, cursing, bothering the other students, it was like he couldn’t hear me or understand what I was saying.”

“At first I asked to have him removed but I didn’t have a referral written so they wouldn’t take him. I then asked that he be sent to ISSP until I could get one written, I had a class of twenty other students to take care of and couldn’t just stop class to write a referral, plus in that class you don’t stop watching them for a second.” Instead of sending him to in school suspension, they put him in a chair outside of Mike’s room.

It wasn’t long before the student was kicking and beating on the door, trying to get back into the room. When Mike opened the door to see what was going on, the student tried to push past him and that’s when it occurred, the altercation. It wasn’t long after that, that Mike found himself at Bulls Bay with his future swinging in the wind.

I don’t know exactly what happened because I wasn’t there but I do know that neither Mike nor the kid should have been in that situation. The administration should have taken the student at the first sign of trouble. Teachers don’t just on a whim decide that some child has to be removed, on the contrary they only do it after they have exhausted every other option they have. And let’s face it, if a student is immune to a teachers look or voice, doesn’t care about getting on the computer or having an assigned seat and their parents are out of the picture either metaphorically or literally there is not a lot teachers can do. We need the administration to step in and have our backs but sadly they don’t all too often.

Even worse if the fact this kid should never have been in the class in the first place. Even though he is in a regular education class, he is intellectually impaired and despite accommodations and modifications ill prepared for regular education classes. I know this because he is well on his way to being a seventeen year old ninth grader and his grade point average starts with a zero. There are dozens more like him at my school alone.

I do know that the majority of his teachers report he is disruptive in their classes too. They told me things like, occasionally he can be charming but he will turn on you in a second, and, he seems more interested in causing trouble and disrupting the class rather than taking care of his business. This wasn’t a student/Mike thing; it was a student having no business being at school thing.

I do know this student has been written up at least a dozen times throughout the school year and none of the consequences for his behavior seem to have made a dent. Sorry I misused the word consequence there, for something to be considered a consequence it must be meaningful and this kid has yet approached a punishment that is remotely meaningful.

I do know it’s ridiculous to be required to have a referral written before you can send a disruptive student out. Sometimes you just can’t stop class to do so but neither should you have to, what about the other twenty students in the class and the same goes with stopping class to call home. The bottom line is, when a kid defiantly tells you no, you are reduced to two choices send them out or lose all credibility as a teacher. Speaking of credibility the longer Mike is out of the classroom the more the district will have destroyed his.

I do know when a kid is being disruptive he steals educational time from all the other students in the classroom. I do know when kids don’t receive consequences for their actions they often get worse. I do know for a consequence to work it must be meaningful. I do know that there are so many wonderful children that are respectful and want to learn and so many dedicated teachers that want to be there for them but both groups are continually thwarted by an unruly ten percent or so that have hijacked the learning process. I also know that if those in charge don’t start doing their jobs, backing up teachers and disciplining students, then sooner or later we are going to have a tragedy.

The truth is I feel sorry for this kid. The school system failed him, they let him down. They were supposed to help prepare him for life but instead they made his problems worse. We allowed a false sense of reality to develop in him where he now thinks however he behaves is acceptable. Then they forced him, despite his intellectual disability, to take classes he has no business in all because we don’t have any other options for him. He’s also not the only one we have done this to; sadly there are thousands more like him. I really feel bad for the kid and all the others just like him but you know who I worse for, my buddy Mike and the thousands of teachers like him too.

So many teachers come to work every day with their sleeves rolled up ready to make a difference in the lives of children and everyday they are met with disrespect and apathy. They work with children who have been pushed along and have either rarely or never received consequences for their actions or with students whose home lives are dreadful and they bring that baggage to school with them. Then many teachers they don’t get any back up from their administrations. They are told to stop class for all the kids and to write the referral for the one, handle it on your own, or are accused of having poor classroom management skills or are sent to Bulls Bay when they can’t take it anymore.

I feel bad for the kid, worst for my buddy and anger towards the school system that put them both in that position. Who is really at fault here?

Two Johns don’t make a Right
The two Johns don’t make a right crew, Thrasher in the senate and Legg in the house, with their teacher merit pay bill got it wrong and it wasn’t because their bill was blatantly anti-union and punitive towards teachers, it was because they didn’t take into account the basic fundamentals in education. Most teachers I know would jump at the opportunity to make more money and furthermore are confident that they would get it. If they would have just found a way to overcome their obvious distain for public education and include security, years of service and advanced education into the equation there would have been a dramatically different outcome for the merit pay bill. Instead of vetoing it, Crist while surrounded by cheering republicans, democrats and teachers alike, would have signed the bill into law.

Despite their best efforts to disregard it, years of service should be an important factor when determining pay. Thrasher and his ilk argued that some first year teachers do better than tenth year teachers and as a result they should get paid more and in a way he is right. Years of service do not guarantee teachers will be better. What he failed to take into account is that most teachers do take a few years to get going. There is the occasional wunderkind that hits the ground running, but more often than not the first couple years are about surviving and advancing. It’s not till around year three that most teachers begin to hit their groove. He also failed to mention that forty percent of first year teachers don’t make it to year five which in my mind means teachers that have shown sticktuitivness and dedication should be rewarded. Like I said he has the semblance of an argument when he says excellent first year teachers should be rewarded more than satisfactory fifth year teachers, but he loses credibility if he thinks they should be rewarded the same as excellent ten of fifteen year one.

I thought the most ironic part of the bill was the piece that discounted advanced degrees and certifications. In effect he was saying, all right students education is important and you should get as much as you can unless you want to be a teacher then this one amount is just enough. How didn’t they see that? Maybe it was because John Thrashers daughter, one of the aforementioned forty percent from above was okay with it.

Then there is financial security which almost sounds like an oxymoron when talking about teachers pay because most of the ones I know are little more than pay check to pay check, which they failed to consider. Shouldn’t teachers know how much money they are going to make. That definitely comes in handy when planning to buy a car or a house or I don’t know, planning one’s life. Why should teachers not get this basic right of employment? Teachers aren’t sales people living on commissions, they are professionals doing a job and deserve to know what wage they are going to get.

So what’s the solution? Well friends it’s almost laughably easy to see, I mean if you don’t hate teachers and unions that is.

Teachers currently are on pay steps each year of service sees teachers get another step. On these steps teachers get what some people call a raise but because the raises are so small, in most cases a couple hundred dollars at best, in reality it’s not. Due to the cost of living continually increasing, teachers actually have less purchasing power after their first year and it stays that way until their tenth or so and then the raises are still negligible. Teachers with advanced degrees get a little more but not much. This is the system we currently find ourselves in. That’s why I found it laughable when they used the argument that an excellent first year teacher should make more than an average tenth year teacher because in reality there isn’t a lot presently separating the two salaries, but I digress.

All including years of service and advanced degrees with any merit pay formula requires is deciding on a salary and adding a couple new columns to the current step chart. The chart would start just like it does now with starting salaries for first year teachers with and without advanced degrees. Then how they do will determine which column they are in the following year and so on. There would be new pay columns for needs improvement, satisfactory and high performing teachers.

A second year high performing teacher would make more than a second year satisfactory teacher and so on. A second year high performing teacher with a master’s degree would make more than a second year high performing teacher without one. This system could allow a second year high performing teacher with a master’s degree to make more than a satisfactory fifth year teacher who would at the same time be making than a satisfactory forth year teacher. At the end of the year after factoring in a teachers evaluation, years of service and degrees held, teachers would know what their salary was going to be the following year and be able to plan their lives accordingly.

Easy, done, put a stamp on it.

Coming up with an acceptable merit pay schedule wouldn’t be that hard to do. And unless you are a republican legislator I think most of us can agree we need one that that rewards dedication and education as well as ability, though I think for the most part we’ll find that those three things go hand and hand. Coming up with a merit pay schedule well that’s the easy part, the easy part that Thrasher and his colleagues in the legislature either missed or didn’t want to see. The really hard part, the ridiculously difficult part is coming up with a proper way to evaluate teachers. I’ll leave that one to the legislature, people smarter than me, hmmm on second thought I’ll tackle that one down the road.

A new term has entered the education lexicon and that’s scrubbing. If you guessed that has to do with cleaning something you’re right but bet you couldn’t guess what was being cleaned in a hundred tries. To save time I’ll just tell you it has to do with grades being scrubbed clean, make that improved so children regardless if they have the skills or not to be successful at the next level or not will be promoted there. Why would educators do that, well it’s simple, it’s because it is easier to appear to be improving than actually improving, and there my friends is the conundrum and reality that education currently finds itself in.

Look at Jacksonville. The school board boasts about all the A schools it has, well most of these schools are at the elementary and middle school level. Inversely at the high school level 11 of the 18 high school are either D or F schools. If we drop the four dedicated magnet schools from the list now it’s 11 out of 14. This is because kids are pushed along till high school and then when they get there; there is nowhere else to push them too, so they struggle. But the district will proudly say but look at all the A schools we have.

A math teacher friend of mine told me that out of all his algebra II students only about a third could pass a legitimate algebra I class. He explained that kids routinely arrive without the skills to do the work. Then in high school the kids that make an honest effort that aren’t behavior problems are pushed along. He reasoned, why should they be punished because they didn’t receive the skills when they should have and why should they be held back and forced to take multiple math classes at a time (more than a few kids are required to take algebra I and geometry at the same time because they failed a class). He then though in the caveat, it’s not like any of them are ever going to use this again.

I don’t blame the teachers at elementary schools and middle schools for passing children along. They are under such pressure to pass kids today no matter what. There was a time when it was a no-brainer, if a kid didn’t pass they stayed behind. Now today’s teachers are expected, cajoled, and bullied into finding ways to pass kids. Sadly we do them no favors when we pass them along while crossing our fingers hoping that at some point they will catch up.

This is all happening at the same time the district has a sixty-five percent graduation rate. The reality is, of the number that are graduating probably a third of them aren’t prepared for the working world or for college. Then the powers-that-be think if we make more rigorous courses like algebra II and chemistry mandatory this will somehow improve performance. Colleges all the time complain that so many students have to receive remedial classes before they start their studies. Well what do they think is going to happen when students are pushed along because the district wants to appear to be doing a good job?

How about we try this, we make all classes rigorous and if a student isn’t ready to move on they don’t until they are. Then at the same time we put in place after school and summer school opportunities and maybe we should make them mandatory too. Hey little Johnny what do you want to do go home and play your ps3 or stay after school and get tutoring. These are children perhaps it’s time we stopped treating them like mini-adults and made some decisions for them.

Furthermore at schools throughout the district teachers are being told that they won’t receive a high performing mark on their evaluation because they gave to many Fs and Ds. With a wink and a nod the district is telling teachers not to give Fs and Ds anymore. That’s right folks in many cases the C is the new F. And you guessed it, a schools grade point average helps its performance. It’s not just grades that are being scrubbed either. In the next few months look for a dramatic decrease in the dropout rate and an increase in F-cat scores at least in science coming soon.

Last year if I had a student who had missed several weeks in a row I could have them withdraw, where this year it’s nearly impossible to do so. I have children on my roles that I have never met, or are in jail and others that I haven’t seen in months and there is very little I can do. What used to be a simple matter of paper work has turned into an ordeal that involves administrators, social workers and the state. Even though just as many kids are dropping out, next year the rate will look a lot better and the perception will be that schools are improving.

Then there is the science f-cat. This year they eliminated the short answer portion of the test, the part of the test that children had been doing the worse on. Instead of having to demonstrate any writing and critical thinking ability, this year’s test was all multiple choice. Rigor has now been eliminated. Now I don’t want to come off as disingenuous. I think the science F-cat which covers four plus years of learning is ridiculous but at the same time if the state points to generous gains on the test they will be being disingenuous too.

Scrubbing isn’t new to education or Duval County either. The district has been scrubbing its grades for years now. The superintendant will gladly tell you that the state ranks us a B district but when you examine how we got there it’s easy to see how that is deceptive. Schools not suspending and having more students take advanced placement tests are two prime of examples that either have no benefit (kids taking A.P. tests whether they are prepared to or not) or cause a detriment (destroying the learning environment by not enforcing discipline) to learning yet at the same time can improve a districts grade.

Scrubbing is all about appearances. It’s all about what schools and districts can do to look better. I imagine they do so because perception often replaces reality and it’s easier. Sadly they have lost sight of what education is supposed to be about and the reality is we are graduating kids ill prepared for adulthood. Things were supposed to be different.

Florida’s teachers, students and parent’s breathed a collective sigh of relief shortly after noon on the 15th of April and it had nothing to do with taxes. It had to do with Governor Crist vetoing the punitive and ill conceived senate bill six. Many felt as if they had just won a fight as they pumped their fists in the air or patted the backs of the friends and colleagues. However the truth is unless they keep fighting all they have done is delayed the inevitable. The powers-that-be seem bound and determined to tear down public education and it’s going to take more than a few bus rides, marches and a veto by a lame duck governor to stop them.

The two Johns don’t make a right crew, Thrasher and Leg the originators of the bills in the respective houses have already began working on reintroducing the bill or forms of it. Senate President-Designate Mike Haridopolos, who takes over in November said “We'll just work on it next year and we'll have a new governor to work with." There is no doubt that he wants that new governor to be state attorney general Bill Mccollum.

Mccollum is so clueless he recently said he supported the bill because it meant he would be “standing up for Florida’s teachers.” which is strange because 95 percent of Florida’s teachers were passionately against the bill. Despite this monumental disconnect from reality he has one big thing going for him and that’s he is a republican and in case you didn’t know, they have had a strangle hold on state politics for over a decade. I have no doubt had he been the governor he would have signed the bill into law even as the ink was drying.

Unless the state of Florida decides education is important we will be right back here next year accept things will be much worse. This is because next year without the federal stimulus propping the Florida economy and its schools up we will be looking into the abyss. People throw out the words draconian or Spartan now when talking about the present budget cuts. Next year they will use the words apocalyptic and Armageddon.

I hate to make this issue a republican thing especially since four in the senate and eleven in the house bravely went against their party leadership to vote against the bill but the reality is since the Republican party took power funding to education has dropped and bills that are harmful to education have come out of Tallahassee with such frequency they might as well have a bus schedule. The F-Cat, school vouchers, a change in the graduation requirements, a potential roll back of the class size amendment and a lack of funding are all weapons of mass destruction aimed at education.

I get that we need assessment tools but the F in F-cat should stand for failed. At my school we don’t really even pretend anymore that we do anything but teach to the test. Teaching kids to think, covering special topics, innovation and creativity have all been sacrificed on the altar of the F-Cat. It has sucked the joy out of both teaching and learning. Here’s an idea, give teachers a list of things to be covered in a nine weeks and then get out of their way, then test them at the end of the nine weeks. Make everything students do matter and be part of the process, not just how they do on one day of the year.

Then whether you are for school vouchers or against school vouchers you must recognize that they take money away from public education. The more vouchers given out mean money is siphoned away from public schools. That hurts public schools. Shouldn’t the answer be to make public schools better rather than wreck them?

If you missed it graduation requirements are changing and algebra II and chemistry are going to become mandatory throughout the state for graduation. Algebra II has already been a requirement in Jacksonville for years. I am not saying these aren’t important classes and they don’t have a role to play but they are classes that are exceedingly difficult that most children will not use and that most people don’t use either. A friend of mine who teaches math told me that about a third of his algebra II kids could legitimately pass an algebra I class. That means the curriculum is being watered down and kids are being passed along. At the same time we’re forcing these classes on kids who are often ill prepared for them we are eliminating the classes they enjoy. We then scratch our heads and wonder why our graduation rates are poor and our dropout rates high.

I and the majority of Floridians are for the class size amendment. The majority of legislators however are not and the reason is they don’t want to fund it. Millionaires can get tax breaks for buying yachts but they can’t fund our children’s classes and that’s shameful. Some children need smaller learning environments to be successful, if not they get lost in a crowd and fall behind, yet we insist on packing them in classrooms like sardines. If we were really serious about education we would make all classes less than 20. This isn’t to say the class size amendment is perfect. School districts are going to use loop holes and fill special ed class rooms and electives with children to get around the requirements. Imagine special ed classes with twenty-five, art classes with fifty and p.e. classes with 75 children because that’s what we are going to have. This isn’t what I had envisioned when I voted for it and I am sure it’s not what you envisioned either.

Finally there is funding. How poorly we fund schools has been documented ad nausea for years now. We spend less on children and more on prisons than ever. I imagine there is a relationship there. In the end I guess we just have to decide if we as a society think our children our important enough to take care of, and sadly thus far we have decided they aren’t.

Friend’s education is under assault. The current powers-that-be have shown no desire to do the right thing when it comes to Florida’s children and it schools. In fact they have shown a propensity for doing the opposite. When Crist vetoed senate bill six all he did was temporarily slow the avalanche rushing towards our children. We can’t rest, stand on our laurels or get complacent because the real battles have yet to begin. It’s only a battle for our children’s futures

Call Teachers Daingerfields, because they get no respect
“Must be nice to have Summers, holidays and spring break” “Oh, you have it so rough,” Most teachers hear that and more from people who have never so much as chaperoned a field trip. Most people don’t think they can be doctors or rocket scientists , but for some reason people think they can be teachers as if all it takes is showing up. Then at the same time think teachers should be miracle workers. Teachers should be able to take any child regardless of home environment, ability or a lack of resources and make them Ivey league material, that’s if they aren’t lazy teachers. Teachers have without a doubt become the Rodney Dangerfield’s of society. Teachers get no respect.

There was a time when it was the opposite. Teachers were revered and valued. In 2010, teachers have to scrape for supplies and are just as likely to be treated with disrespect by a parent as they are a student. “It’s not my babies fault they ______ (fill in the blank with whatever), parents will justify junior’s bad behavior. But it’s even worse than that as the whole profession is under attack by elements both in the government and society as well. These ‘leaders’ really have no idea what they are talking about, use manipulative and deceptive information through mass media, and obviously consider teachers as a lazy group, filling a role anybody could do.

So those in the Ivory Tower need to create a diversion, a need to fix society’s problems. These leaders kick up noise about an epidemic of bad teachers. Test scores are low, a significant amount of kids can’t read on grade level and kids are dropping out, get pregnant, doing drugs, skipping class, sleeping in school, etc.. And the blame is shifted to: teachers and the education unions. There is no mention of how parental involvement and personal responsibility factor into determining a students success. Meanwhile states all across the nation are slashing education budgets. Teachers are told to do more with less. Every school district has policies in place to fire bad teachers and the unions are there just to make sure those policies are followed.

Go ahead and admit it. At some point you probably thought to yourself, “Well if I wasn’t doing what I do now, I be a teacher to have summers and holidays off.” Maybe even more people have thought: ”How hard could it be? They’re just kids.” Teachers have it so much easier than those of us in the ‘real’ world of work.

Teachers every day in Jacksonville are cursed out, assaulted and have their wallet, car keys, or other possessions vandalized or stolen. I wonder how many people in office jobs can attest to having the same things happen?

Like many people in many professions teachers provide many of their own tools and supplies. Unlike many people in many professions, teachers have had to provide many others their tools and supplies, too. Teachers selflessly give to other people’s children: clothes, back packs, books, grocery store gift cards, hundreds of lunches, mountains of paper, folders and pens and pencils.

Teachers are paid for only work seven and a third hours a day. Most teachers however work several extra hours a day, into the evenings and on weekends too. Teachers sacrifice time with their friends and families to do so and they do it all for free. I would guess the average teacher works at least ten extra, ten free hours a week.

Teachers aren’t living in the lap of luxury either. Over the summer teachers are basically unemployed. Many teachers get second jobs during the year and over the summer. Most teachers I know live pay check to paycheck in fear of a smoking engine, a child’s illness or some other emergency that professionals in different fields would quickly just write off. People become teachers knowing they will never be rich; but is it too much to ask that they be able to pay their bills and that they don’t have to live in fear of even the most mundane happenings that life throws at them?

There’s another thing that people routinely forget too. Teachers are professionals. They need degrees and certifications and they must continually work on their craft, taking classes or workshops to be recertified. When do they do this? Well often it’s the evenings or during their supposed summers off.

The modern teacher also has very little control over their classroom. Initiative, innovation, and creativity have all been replaced with pacing guides, the test and standarized classrooms. Imagine going into art or music but you are only allowed to paint one picture or play one song. Teachers are all but told teach to the test, helping children learn how to think has been replaced by helping children learn how to pass a test. Furthermore falling behind or deviating from the curriculum to help their students understand is becoming more and more acceptable.

Being a teacher takes professional credentials, an enthusiasm to put yourself on the line to all different types of children and families and it takes a willingness to know you may never be able to provide for your children they way you want to, while at the same time providing for others. It’s not an easy job. People just can’t show up and do it. And for every bad one the talking heads point to there are hundreds of good ones.

Teachers all have one thing in common. They do what they do to make a difference in kid’s lives. Teachers believe in service and giving back to society and still do so, though lately teachers seemed to be more denigrated than appreciated. Teachers don’t ask for a lot, you can look at our pay checks and see that, so how about just a little respect, you might be surprised how far it gets you, your children and society.

On Monday April 12th the principal of my school told the shared decision making committee that because of a nearly million dollar budget shortfall he would be cutting 10 staff positions. He took no joy in telling us this news, saying, this is the reality facing not just our school but most schools throughout the county.

Ironically enough the school board made some similar announcements about funding later that day. They announced they would be spending fifty thousand dollars, roughly the salary and benefits of the art teacher we will be losing to hire a law firm to represent them in the appointed verses school board debate. After seeing that is more important to them than my colleague I have a clearer idea about how I feel about the subject.

The board also approved a 250 thousand increase in the travel budget. That’s would have covered the two ESE teachers, media specialist and history teacher my school is about to lose. This increased the districts travel budget to 1.4 million roughly the equivalent of 22 elementary school art and music teachers.

They agreed to settle with our former food provider who hasn’t provided any food for the district in about two years to the sum of 662 thousand dollars. The 120 million we gave them for the services they did provide was obviously not enough. If they are owed the money then we should definitely pay it but at the same time I wonder why we are “settling” two years after they have moved on.

Finally and at the same time we are facing a 75 million dollar shortfall they decided to spend 550 thousand dollars to hire a group to review its academic programs and all of this on the heels of them spending a million dollars on new cars just a few months ago. Not only would this money pay the salaries of the teachers being let go and allow us to have a semblance of a supply budget but it also warrants a few questions.

They are the school board aren’t they? If anybody should know what is working and what isn’t shouldn’t it already be them? Why don’t they plug the mountains of data they had teachers collect into a spread sheet to figure it out or better yet ask the teachers themselves what is working and what isn’t? Don’t they trust the teachers to know and in these tough economic times where every penny is precious is this really the best use of our resources?

The truth is the school board is disconnected from what’s going on in the district. They don’t understand the realities that teachers and students are facing. We don’t need a travel budget we need social workers to help figure out why some kids don’t try and some kids act up, so we can get them the help and services they need. Where a review of our programs is a good idea this is something we don’t need to spend money on, it’s something we should be able to do in house. Instead we need to spend that money on art and music teachers and after school programs, which I think should be mandatory for kids who can’t read or fail their core academic classes. They don’t need to spend money on lawyers either, they should convince the people of Jacksonville that they should continue to be elected or move on.

They obviously also have no understanding about how this hurts the district. I believe education is underfunded but when they make expenditures like above it gives the people who think schools are already over funded ammunition and it makes people on the fence about the subject pull away from schools. This is coming at a time when we desperately need money and it’s not just for teachers’ salaries that I am talking about either.

At my school we don’t offer after school detention, we don’t have anybody to monitor it and many students wouldn’t have a way home. Since schools don’t suspend anymore if a student is immune to a teachers voice or look, they don’t care about getting on the computer or their parents have abdicated their responsibilities there isn’t a whole lot left in we can do and as discipline breaks down so does learning. We should also have after school activities to keep more kids off the streets and to provide additional learning opportunities.

Summer school in years past has all but been eliminated. Instead of just passing kids along without the skills they need to be successful. Instead we need to give them extra instruction and work on them
maintaining their skills so they aren’t as lost at the beginning of the next year.

I mentioned social workers and art and music teachers above and we desperately need more of them in schools. The origin of behavior problems whether its kids that acting up or isn’t trying often comes from the home. We need people in there not just trying to figure out what the problems are but providing services as well. Then kids need subjects they can look forward to and enjoy that can also prove beneficial later in life.

We need money to reintroduce trades back into the schools, instead of just trying to fit all children onto the go to college track. Children have different needs and desires when we start servicing them, that’s when scores will go up, that’s when we’ll see improvement in the district.

Then I do think teachers’ salaries need to improve. So many are pay check to paycheck, living in fear of engine troubles, a child’s illness or some unforeseen emergency. My first contract a decade ago was for 26 thousand dollars and I had four thousand in the bank at the end of my first year. Now my salary is approaching 40 thousand and I am pay check to pay check and I often have to decide what bills to pay and which ones I can let go for a while. In the end this is the life I chose so I will make due, I had a feeling all those years ago when I became a teacher that I wouldn’t be rich, I became a teacher because I wanted to help kids, I just hoped like many other teachers did that I would be able to pay my bills too.

Finally the school board also voted on a resolution asking Governor Christ to veto the teacher pay for performance pay bill saying that the current system needed to change. Finally something I can agree with. We do need change and the change we need to start with is the school board.

The school board election finances were announced and it wasn’t surprising to find Eric Smith and Fred “Fel” Lee leading their respective races with money collected. After all they are both politicians with name recognition and numerous connections.

Fred “Fel” Lee in his literature talks about how as the husband and father of a teacher he is qualified to be on the school board. I guess that means if I have two relatives that are doctors I can perform surgery. Then there is life long politician Eric Smith. By all accounts he, a two time former city council president and Florida representative is an able statesman. In fact I like a lot of the things he has done and stood for but with that being said, I think him being elected to the school would be the worst thing that could happen. Haven’t we had our fill of politicians on their way up or way down and people who couldn’t get elected elsewhere settling for the school board? Haven’t we had enough people on the board who haven’t worked with kids or in classrooms in years or ever? I couldn’t find anywhere Mr. Lee and Mr. Smith’s experience working with children or in schools.

I don’t understand what makes some people think, that with little or no experience they can step into the education arena and do a good job. Unfortunately that’s a typical problem. Most people don’t think they could be a doctor, engineer or a lawyer but at the same time they think they can be teachers, as if it is a matter of just showing up. The truth is it’s a hard job that takes a certain kind of person to be able to do successfully.

The school board shouldn’t be made up of politicians trying to extend or start their political lives. Haven’t we already gotten a taste for what they can do and found it unfulfilling. Instead the school board should be made up of people who have been with the students in the trenches. Who first hand have seen what works and what doesn’t.

We need teachers and people who have worked in the school to stand up and run and be elected. These are people who have dedicated their lives to children whose only aim is to improve their lives, not to put another line on a resume.

I know just because someone is a teacher it doesn’t necessarily mean they will have all the answers but who do you want working on the problems, a suit behind a desk or somebody in the trenches with their sleeves rolled up and haven’t we already had far too many of one and not nearly enough of the other?
Start the Revolution
Thomas Jefferson wrote; “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it.” He’s basically saying if those in charge aren’t doing the right thing then the people they govern have the right to kick them out or change their situation. Whenever I hear about the latest fiasco regurgitated out by Tallahassee it just makes me think, those bastards don’t have our best interests in mind. Isn’t it time we took Jefferson’s words to heart and made a change after all isn’t the state engaging in destructive practices?

They give tax breaks to special interests such as the sugar and bottled water industry among others many of which don’t have an inkling of a presence in Jacksonville. They are going to force us to help pay for high speed rails that connect cities far away. The state government is not only trying to steal home rule but it is already violating the constitution by not funding education and is attempting to do so again by superseding the will of the people by rolling back the class size amendment. They pick and choose what rules they are going to follow, following the rules they like or that benefit them and their friends ignoring the ones they don’t like, like adequately funding education.

The Florida Constitution says “The education of children is a fundamental value of the people of the State of Florida. It is, therefore, a paramount duty of the state to make adequate provision for the education of all children residing within its borders. Adequate provision shall be made by law for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education and for the establishment, maintenance, and operation of institutions of higher learning and other public education programs that the needs of the people may require.”

Adequate provisions? Are they doing so by cutting education budgets year after year? Do you think this helps the “paramount duty” to provide a high quality education or harms it? Their mandates requiring algebra II and chemistry interfere with us preparing children to be good citizens which should be the “paramount responsibility” of a good school system. They ignore this part of the constitution daily and as a result haven’t they lost the moral authority required to govern us?

Jacksonville is not only the largest city in Florida size wise but it is the largest population wise to. Now it’s true some metropolitan areas are bigger, but like Orange Park doesn’t give us any kickbacks. cities like Miami and Tampa aren’t getting subsidized by their suburbs either. This means Jacksonville proper has more people paying taxes to the state and much of that money is going elsewhere?

Now through their education bills they seek to wrest even more home rule away from us. They use our tax dollars to subsidize other counties, dole our money back to us and then tell us how we should spend it. For years they underfunded our children saying different kids in different parts of the states were worth more and I don’t think I need to explain what a fiasco the lottery and the f-cat have been.

What kind of job is the Florida state legislature doing too? The state’s unemployment rate is high our deficits are high, they have different priorities than the citizens of Jacksonville, and they siphon monies away from us, so exactly what are we getting out of this relationship. If we broke away from the state could we do worse? If we are going to fail don’t you want it to be on us rather than because some politicians far away who don’t have our best interests at heart gave us no other option.

Jefferson further wrote; when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. How long are we to wait for the state government to do the right thing, and if they are neglecting our children aren’t they threatening our future. How long can we endure a “history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over…” Jacksonville.

Friends and fellow citizens it’s time we recognized the state government is not our friend, for far too long we have been an afterthought an unwanted associate who they could take from and give very little back to. When are we going to wake up and say enough is enough?

There is a social contract between us and them and when they continuously break it or disregard it then it’s time for us to move on. It’s time for us to start having our best interests in mind rather than hoping people far away who have shown us nothing but distain do. Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration says not only is it our right but it’s our moral responsibility to do so.

It’s time somebody in this state got morals. It’s time somebody in this state took responsibility. It’s time we did.

In the last year Ed White high school on the Westside has seen more than its fair share of tragedies. The latest involved the senseless of murder of sophomore Tiphne Hollis just 16. By all accounts she was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time and unfortunately there have been no arrests in the subsequent two weeks. She however hasn’t been the only member of the Ed White family in the news and perhaps lost in Tiphne’s tragedy is the horror that befell Delores Futrell. She was murdered by Ed White alums Randall Deviney.

Tiphne and Randal were on drastically different tracks while at Ed White. Tiphne’s teachers all say she was a sweet, quite girl who worked hard and had a bright future. Randal on the other hand was a special education student who had quite the reputation for causing trouble. I remember when was hired I was warned to stay away from him and a couple other students too. I thought “stays away, um, aren’t I a teacher.” Randal and my path never really crossed, though I have had more than a few that were just like he was in my classes.

Now Randall Deviney wasn’t a murderer back then he was just defiant and disrespectful, without conscious and remorse. He thought he could behave however he wanted and school was nothing more than an inconvenience to him and if any teacher got in his way they could expect a tirade of foul language as he explained what he thought of them and education in general. In those regards he is like dozens if not hundreds of other students here in the county. Students who I know are on the road to disaster. And we have the same plan in place for them and that’s just to cross our fingers and hope they don’t too many people down with them. In the meantime we try and stay out of their ways as well.

To be honest even if we would have decided five years ago that we as a society wanted to save him I don’t think we would have had a chance. He was far too damaged and angry as close to a lost cause as you can get. Sadly this means Delores Futrell, the 65 year old disabled neighbor that was reported to have been so kind to him that he would call her grandmother, whose throat he subsequently slit, fate had probably already been sealed.

I do however wonder what would have happened had we gotten to him as an eight year old or an eleven year old. If we could have recognized through his behavior and grades which by all accounts were always poor at best, that this kid was in trouble, that he needed help? If we could have gotten him counseling or extra help, something could he and Delores had been saved then? Maybe it’s worse than that, maybe his teachers did recognize his problems but there was nothing they could do, handcuffed by the system of shrinking and hard to get resources.

The truth is I don’t know but I do know that Florida is fiftieth out of fifty on what we spend on education while at the same time we are sixteenth on what we spend on prisons. Maybe if those two stats were switched Delores would still be alive. Furthermore we spend almost three times more on prisoners than we do on students. Prisons where necessary are reactive, education and care are proactive. Chicago Longitudinal Study reports "For every dollar invested in high-quality, comprehensive programs supporting children... there is a $7-$10 return to society in decreased need for special education services, higher graduation and employment rates, less crime, less use of the public welfare system, and better health."

I also know prisons have become big business. There are 139 prison facilities that hold over a hundred thousand inmates within the Florida Department of Corrections. This number does not include count county jails, federal prisons, or people on probation. How many of them could have been saved had we decided we want to invest in children. How many more Delores could have been saved? What about Tiphnes, her murderer is still on the loose but odds say it will be a young man with a history of trouble and poor academics.

The legislature recently gave yacht owners a tax break, joining a long list of special interests that don’t contribute their fair share. At the same time they did this they voted to cut money to education and slash money to other social services including the transition of children from state care to independent living. They are cutting funding to pregnant woman and families too. In doing so how many more Tiphnes, Delores and Randall’s fates are they sealing?
Tragedy on the Westiside
A couple weeks ago a jury recommended that Randal Deviney be executed for the murder of Delores Futrell who by all accounts was never anything but kind to him. The judge has yet to pass sentence but in reality he was sentenced long ago, but he is not the only one.

With the Florida State legislature following all over itself to avoid doing the right thing by properly funding education, they have been trying to get the federal government to do it instead. They have been doing so by applying for over a billion dollars through Washington’s race to the top grants. Part of the application depends on how teachers are evaluated and as result there has been a lot of talk about how to do so. So much that the legislation has proposed and fast tracked without much discussion, that fifty percent of a teacher’s salary be tied to how their children perform on the various standardized tests. What people may be failing to recognize and I am sure that includes our myopic state government is that teacher’s evaluations have never been based on how children do on standardized tests.

Teachers all over the district have been getting their evaluations over the last few weeks, months before the results of the F-cat are known. This includes ESE teachers, history teachers, elective teachers and so many other teachers that teach subjects that don’t have standardized tests. In truth the powers-that-be have no idea how to properly evaluate teachers and this insistence that it be mostly determined by children’s gains on a test just opens a whole new can or worms.

Currently evaluations typically depend on a principal or their designee getting a snap shot of what is going on in a classroom. They come in and observe and review lesson plans, this year data notebooks were thrown into the mix as well. This year I had two thirty minute observations and two or three pop ins where the principal or a designee stayed just five minutes or so, neither of the longer visits was done by the principal. That’s it; a total of seventy-five minutes over the course of a year will determine my evaluation. Some teachers got more visits and longer observations and some teachers got less.

Duval County in the past has what’s called Map tests to determine if teachers should get merit pay. They are supposed to be given at the beginning and at the end of the school year. One of the problems is they are never given when they are supposed to. This year they arrived most unexpectedly about week eight and teachers were given a few days to give them, regardless of what they had going on in their classrooms. I saw one map test that was supposed to be given to a group of intellectually impaired children that can’t even read their names. Some kids ask is this the test “I am supposed to do bad on so you can get money later”, while others just Christmas tree it because it does not affect their grade in the class. Teachers don’t grade them they collect them and turn them in. Finally with both money and very little oversight involved I have heard other stories as well.

It gets better, say you are a teacher and do everything right. You give the map tests and have your kids take it seriously. Then at the end of the year after pouring your heart and soul into your classroom your kids make gains on the MAP tests, impressive gains, well there is still a good chance you won’t be eligible for performance pay. In order to get performance pay your principal must rate you high performing, satisfactory won’t cut it. If you are not rated HP right there the journey ends and any chance for extra pay is over.

Why might you be rated satisfactory after all that? Well in schools all over the county teachers are being told it’s because they have given to many f’s or d’s they can’t be high performing. A teacher in disbelief told me; well had I known that nobody would have failed. Sometimes bad grades can result from ineffective instruction but more often than not they result from apathy and lack of effort on a student’s part. If teachers are going to lose money or potentially their jobs because they have expectations for kids and expect their classes to be rigorous, they will lower their expectations and friends before this I would have said it would be nearly impossible to do so but as usual the district finds a way. Say the latter from above is the case and the teacher gives effective instruction, this now means the district has just told teachers not to give kids bad grades any more. They have just said student performance no longer matters.

Friends if attendance doesn’t matter because now kids can get grade recovery for any reason, behavior doesn’t matter because the district refuses to discipline and now student performance doesn’t matter, what exactly does? Please don’t say your children, because if they are pushed along without the skills and the discipline needed to be successful then the district is doing them no favors. On the contrary we have set them up for a lifetime of mediocrity at best.

I’ll tell you what matters here in Duval County, that’s appearances. The school board wants the public to believe they are doing a good job with their strategic plan and their map tests. They want us to think that discipline and attendance are improving and programs like compass odyssey are making a difference. Sadly the truth is Rome burning down around us and like Nero they are just putting out pleasant music.

There are so many great things going on here in the county and I can’t think of one that is happening at 1701 Prudential drive, instead they are the interactions between students and teachers. Even the worse schools in the toughest neighborhoods hardest hit by apathy and violence have tremendous things going on and would have more if the powers-that be would either do their job or get out of their way.

There are some things you should know about Ed Pratt-Dannals as you consider what he has written. First he makes a 100 thousand more than the mayor and has every incentive to keep things the way they are. At a salary of 270 thousand dollars there has been no mention of him taking a salary cut. Of the 33 members of the school board that make over 100k the vast majority are on his staff. Please don’t say that we need to pay for talent when all teachers make so much less.

Ed Pratt-Dannals is a politician and as a result he doesn’t represent teachers and he doesn’t represent children, in fact the only people he speaks for are the school board and the administration that is beholden to him. Since he has become superintendant the district has said student performance isn’t important, attendance isn’t important and behavior isn’t important. The only thing that matters is if he and the school board can manipulate the data enough to make the slumbering masses believe they are doing good enough of a job to justify them keeping them.

Only losers
See the list of winners, is one of the prompts on the site, about the Race to the Top grants. What about the losers can’t we see a list of them too? Am I the only one offended that the government is treating the future of our children like a game? I am personally glad we did not get any part of the Race to the Top grant. In theory, these grants created by politicians are designed to improve education but I think they are going to end up having the opposite effect. They are going to hurt education and do so dramatically.

This didn’t stop Florida from pulling out all stops to get a share of the grant and many education experts thought we were a shoe in and it came as quite a surprise that we didn’t. Maybe we didn’t win because we asked for 1.1 billion dollars or over a quarter of the grant for just us alone. In our fervor to get it, the legislature also put senate bill six and its house counterpart on the fast track to becoming a law. You might know the bills under their other name, the, we hate unions and everything is the teachers fault bill. Then again maybe we didn’t “win” because the nation knows the powers-that-be we don’t value education that much.

Isn’t it ironic that the states leaders, basically the Republican Party rail against practically everything the federal government does but then fall all over themselves in attempts to get money? I guess anything to avoid doing the right thing right? How about they fund education properly and then stay out of the localities way, at least until they get a clue as to what they are doing.

I voted for President Obama and I will even admit I got caught up in his hope and change speeches. I thought the country had gotten a little mean and selfish, I didn’t like the war. I felt it was time we went in a different direction. However after reading the provisions of the Race to the Top grants, this is not the change I had hoped for and even worse it has shaken my hope, my belief that things can change for the better, especially if this is the direction the government wants to head in. Politicians like used car salesmen have a way of making things sound good even bad things, but like my grandfather used to say, you can put perfume on a pig, but it’s still a pig. The Race to the Top grants is a pig of an idea.

It calls for Adopting standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace. This actually sounds good until you think about it critically. Florida already has a test, the almost universally reviled F-Cat. It is so high stakes for both children and schools that most schools just teach to the test. I hope some of these kids can get jobs where they just take the F-cat day after day because that’s all we have prepared them for. And where I can’t speak for everywhere in Florida what exactly is Duval doing to prepare them for the work place. We have practically eliminated the teaching of trades and severely curtailed the teaching of arts. I am also not sure if all the social promotions and the ignoring of discipline that we do, does our kids, who will eventually join the work place, any favors. What do you mean I have to do my work and I can’t curse you out, are questions I can see many of our children asking future employers.

Then when it says: Building data systems that measure student growth and success, and inform teachers and principals how to improve instruction, is a huge problem too. If the government was being honest it should have written, lets over work our already over worked and under paid teachers. Let’s give them more tasks than they can possibly do and then have them only play a peripheral relationship to education. For centuries do you know where most teachers got their data? It was from working with the kids and learning about them. They don’t need to spend hours creating bell curves and bar graphs to learn little Johnny needs extra time or little Suzy is more of a visual learner, the good teachers after a few days know it and do it.

The third point is recruiting, developing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers and principals, especially where they are needed most. Hmmm, where are they needed most? Oh that’s right they are needed most everywhere that children go to school. The race to the Top Grant with its winners and losers prioritize children. Now do some children need extra help and extra resources? Undoubtedly, should they get them, yes.

Finally the race to the top grant calls for turning around the lowest-performing schools. Wow what a great idea, if only the states and localities would have thought about that, then we wouldn’t have been sitting around doing nothing for all these years. The thing that most people don’t want to admit is that most of the worse schools are in the worse neighborhoods and where schools can be part of the plan to turn them all around they can’t be the only piece. Teachers who show up every day, spend their own money and make an honest effort cannot compete with what is going on in children’s homes and neighborhoods, they can’t and to blame teachers is just wrong. The school in Rhode Island that received a lot of publicity when all of their teachers were fired not only was in one of the worse poorest neighborhoods but had actually been making gains in reading and math and for all their hard work received pink slips. In the end they didn’t fail the community, the community failed them.

Schools are not designed to fix society, if a child does not want to learn they can be highly successful doing so. The thing is, if not careful schools can exacerbate already existing problems and there are some things they can be doing to make sure fewer kids fall through the cracks as well. This is what we should be working on fixing and improving.

I have a couple ideas to turn education around, ideas that won’t break the bank and won’t blow up the wheel. If a kid can’t master the material they aren’t passed until they can. If a kid acts up they get consequences. If a kid does either of those we get them some help to catch up or find out why. Then let’s lay off teachers, there is not some epidemic of bad teachers out despite what some right wing talk show hosts would have you believe. The vast majority of teachers are hard working, dedicated and sacrifice so much. If we want to put more procedures in place to check on this, as long as they are not
too intrusive, then they are not going to mind.

My question is, how are the politicians in Washington D.C., Tallahassee and 1701 prudential Drive, supposedly the best of the best we have to offer as a nation not getting that this is what we need to do? Maybe it’s because they are in their ivory towers too far away from the problem or maybe it’s because they really aren’t the best of the best after all. Whatever the reason, this is not the change I hoped for and if it comes true, it will be change I dread.

Out of Touch
The leaders in the Florida legislature are completely out of touch with the average citizens of Florida and if you don’t believe me just look at what both chambers passed last Thursday. Already pinched for revenue and prepared to slash more funding from education, they granted additional sales tax breaks to yacht owners. They reasoned that investing in yachts rather than education will create job growth. I can only guess it will do so by creating more yacht salesmen and yacht builder jobs. Ironically this comes at the same time they want performance pay for teachers?

Most of the republican leadership in Tallahassee has acted disgracefully with their attacks on the teaching profession, though a few politicians are questioning them. Sen. Dan Gelber Democrat Miami beach on Tuesday posed a good question about the bills that directly ties teacher pay to student test scores, he said’ "What worries me about this bill is, it assumes we know what we're doing here." Where I guess there is a first time for everything. it’s quite apparent that senate bill six and its house counterpart is definitely not it.

The Florida Legislature run by the Republicans, the party of guns, God and low taxes have a plan to pay teachers based on performance, let’s see how Jesus would do if he was paid with the same system.

Some might think it disrespectful of me to compare Jesus to modern day teachers and what is going on
in the Florida senate. I assure you that is not my intent. My intent is to show you the absurdity of the situation and if I could point out a hypocrite or two, I would be all right with that as well.

Jesus was undoubtedly a teacher spreading the word of God. One of the chief tenants he taught was to love your neighbor like you would love yourself. Friends we’re not the legislature’s neighbors. At the same time they have been slashing money to social services and education they have been giving special interests billions of dollars in tax cuts. They might say this was done to stimulate job growth but if that’s the case then they failed mightily; I guess it’s a good thing for them they don’t have merit pay. Friends they don’t have to love the average citizen and the average family like they love their neighbors because we can’t afford to live in their neighborhoods.

During his sermons he would preach about service and humility. Well friends teaching is all about service and is there a more humble profession than being in education. Teachers do it not to be rich but because they want to help and so many sacrifice time with their friends and family as well as their own personal resources to do so. Teachers show up every day with their sleeves rolled up ready to work and the vast majority toil in anonymity and many do so in undesirable conditions.

Jesus starts out slow only converting a few to Christianity. He has a hard time reaching people at first. A lot of them don’t care what he has to say and even more just went with what their parents taught them. Like most first year teachers it took him a while to refine his message. It’s a good thing he wasn’t a teacher in Florida because under John Thrashers new plan he might not have made it to year two.

Jesus had a few things going for him which made him stand out. He unlike the typical teacher was able to perform miracles. He could turn water into wine and walk on water. Teachers today have no divine powers like he did but for some reason they are expected to perform miracles in the classroom and believe me getting some of the children to learn is a s close to a miracle as any of us are likely to see.

Teachers are supposed to make some children who don’t care do so, while at the same time overcoming all the influences from their parents, families and neighborhoods many of which aren’t very positive. If only I could lay hands on somebody and make them score a five on the F-CAT.

Jesus was often misunderstood. What he was preaching was so revolutionary at the time. Love your neighbor? Turn the other cheek? Take care of the humbled masses? It was a dog eat dog world back them and at first nobody understood what he was talking about. Well what profession is more misunderstood than the teaching profession? People think; well they get holidays and summers off they must not be working too hard. A lot of people don’t get that many teachers work ten hour days and during their summers off, when they are basically unemployed, they work on honing their craft by taking classes and workshops. Teachers also just don’t teach, they are disciplinarians, social workers, friends and parents and for years they have been told to do more with less, but most people don’t know that.

Teachers are a lot like Jesus in other ways too. Like him they have all practically taken a vow of poverty as none save the superintendant and the members of his inner circle get rich while spreading the words of science, English, math and history. Most have come to grips with the fact that they will never be rich and are okay with that. They take their payment in the form of children learning and succeeding in the classroom. They become rich with the knowledge that occasionally they can reach a child and make a difference.

In the end Jesus was judged like and the powers that be of the time found him lacking. They didn’t like the job he was doing, the fact that he spoke up for what was right, the fact he believed in service and humility and that he wanted a better future for all of Gods children was too much for them. In the end he was sacrificed because some money changers and politicians wanted nothing to do with everybody succeeding.

He didn’t have any mortal protections to make sure that he was treated fairly at the end either. The man in charge said that’s how it was going to be and that’s how it was. If senate bill six and its house counterpart passes that’s how it will be for teachers too. They will be able to be dismissed for any reason.

Comparing teachers to Jesus Christ I admit is a stretch on my part, but teachers do believe in service, they do sacrifice and they want a better future for all their children, so you will have to forgive me for thinking it’s not completely out there. Is it to much to ask that they be able to feed their families as well? Is it also too much to ask that after all the sacrifice they do that they have as little job security?

If Jesus were here he would undoubtedly love those on both sides of this argument but who do you think he would support? Who do you think he would sit down and break bread with? The money changers and politicians in Tallahassee who exist to satisfy their greed and hubris, and who delight in casting blame on teachers even though they have not fulfilled their part of the bargain to fund education and to make children a priority or the teachers those who have dedicated their life to service and working with children?

Who do you think he would sit down with?

How should Teachers be Paid
There has been great discussion about how teachers should get paid. Politicians have using the buzz words merit pay to misinform the public. People that support the notion of merit pay scream, that’s how other professions get paid, why should teachers be any different. Charlie Crist even said that’s how it is for most of us: You do well, you keep your job. I found it quite ironic that as he said that the state is facing massive unemployment and a three billion dollar deficit. Though at the same time it made me wonder how teachers would get paid if they were in other professions.

If teachers were bankers they would get paid millions no matter what type of job they do and then get bonuses on top of that. The really lucky teachers would get bailed out by the government.

If teachers worked in a sweat shop they would get paid by the pieces. Last year the state gave about 7,000 dollars per student, a class of 25 would bring in 205 thousand. Now if all this went to the teachers it would eliminate, support staff and administrative positions and teachers would have to for their overhead but since they would have a little extra be to be able to do so. As most teachers already pay for some of their supplies and many of their children’s supplies too this wouldn’t be that affected.

If teachers got paid like a politicians they would make over a hundred grand and it wouldn’t matter what type of job they do as long as they could convince at least forty percent of their parents that they were doing a good job. Forty percent is a generous estimate of how large the voting public usually is, though John Thrasher won a race once with about six percent of the possible votes.

If teachers were in the military they would get a wage based on rank, similar to how teachers now get a wage based on years of service. The military also gives additional bonuses for special or hazardous duty pay like say they were in a war zone; this is in addition to their salary which is what merit pay should be. Could you imagine how demoralizing it would be to military personnel if the Pentagon said; unless you are in a warzone we’re only going to give you half pay.

If teachers were fireman or police, perhaps the best comparison available they would get a base salary that would increase every year. They could further get bonuses based on their education. If that sounds familiar that’s because that’s exactly how teachers are paid too, at least for now anyways. What would happen if we told firemen they were going to be paid on how many fires they put out and then adjust that based on property loss? What would happen if we told the police they were going to be paid on how many arrests they made, would that make things a lot better or lot worse?

Teachers would be excited about merit pay if it was a bonus to their salary, that’s they received it in addition to their salary, after all isn’t that what a bonus is. The legislature is trying to make half of a teacher’s salary be based on merit as if most teachers don’t have plenty of merit by simply showing up. In their system there is no bonus for excellence or achievement the best of the best will simply get their full salary.

Then think about how ironic the notion of stripping away teacher’s salary enhancement for advanced degrees. Teachers tell children all the time get your education and the more you have the more you will be able to do. Well incongruously enough accept if you are a teacher because all teachers regardless of education will be paid the same, well potentially be paid the same.

No longer will years of service count for anything either. It won’t matter if you have worked for one year or thirty, and exactly what profession does that happen in again. Length of service more than anything has determined ones pay in most professions. Everyone got a raise after a year, the best performers a little more but nobody was left out.

Also where is this epidemic of bad teachers supposedly coming from, because teachers in Florida have been doing more with less for years and as a state has made appreciable gains. There are procedures in place to remove bad teachers is it the unions fault districts across the state have not used them to get rid of the few bad apples. The truth is teaching is like most professions and can be place on a bell curve. There are five percent great ones, five percent bad ones and the vast majority falls in the middle. Why does Florida think it’s okay to punish them all, especially since if they wanted to do the leg work they could get rid of the worse.

John Thrasher was quoted as saying, my daughter was a teacher and she’s not afraid of senate bill six, a clone of which will be on the horizon. The key phrase in that sentence is “was a teacher” as she has since moved on. Though she is one of the few because the vast majority of teachers whether they be religious or not, democrat or republican, new or experienced, old or young, black or white and every race in between are terrified about this bill. But as long as her daughter the former teacher is okay with it then Thrasher thinks it’s all right. How is that acceptable?

Furthermore as the leader of the republican party John Thrasher controls the purse string. Legislatures against the bill must be under incredible pressure to vote for it because they are afraid John Thrasher will submarine their careers by withholding campaign funds. Him just being in the legislature is a conflict of interest of the highest order. Also despite the fact he is a republican isn’t he supposed to represent all the people in his district of which out of 166,000 only about seven thousand voted for him last time he ran.

There are so many flaws in the bill it’s almost unimaginable that anyone of reasonable intelligence can’t see them and if that’s the case people supporting the bill must have more insidious reasons to do so. Think about it and also think if legislatures had their pay tied to performance how much would they would get paid. I suspect not much.

Teacher Evaluations
I was asked by a Times Union editor if teachers should be evaluated like other professionals? My answer, in a nut shell was, no. I then went on to expound.

Evaluating teachers is subjective, a lot like art, some people are going to like the way a particular teacher does it and some aren't, furthermore there aren't inputs and out puts that can be measured despite some insistence that the f-cat can be used to do so.

There are also so many thing s that go on before a teacher even begins to teach. Does the student care, does the family care, does the teacher have the resources and the backing they need and then what did all the other teachers the student had before do are just to name a few variables that teachers face and like I said this is all before any actual teaching begins.

That’s not to say I don’t think teachers shouldn’t be evaluated we just have to come up with a fair way to do so. Every year when they hand out merit pay I sometimes think, wow that teacher got it and other times think, wow that teacher didn't? Though I think the later far more than the former.

I think a combination of things should be considered when evaluating teachers among them the teacher’s contribution to the school in non teaching ways such as coaching sports, sponsoring clubs and volunteering, often the people that are always doing those things are the most passionate about school and the most passionate sometimes make the best teachers.

How kids do can should play a role as well but we need to move away from the f-cat, see my next two blogs, OMG it’s ridiculous all we do is teach to the test, and I hope these kids can find a job taking f-cats because that’s all we have trained them to do. I don't get why they don't just say “teach this, this nine weeks and we'll have a test at the end of it.” Each nine weeks you could get a feeling for what teachers were doing a good job and what kids were learning and the opposite. No test should be make it or break it like the F-cat is, for students and may soon be for teachers. The list of topics to be covered in a nine weeks would have to be reasonable and I wouldn’t care if teachers used a Vulcan mind meld to get the information across. Did you know in high school the science F-Cat covers three plus years of learning and the math two plus. How many kids should we have caught earlier?

I then think there should be evaluations done by a committee of professionals not just the principal but a peer and a peer from another school who won't get caught up in office politics or be vested in seeing someone do well or doesn't do well could also be used. There are first year teachers at my school who have never been observed and none of my observations have lasted more than a half hour. Each time I was observed this year they said my mastery of the material was good, my kids were engaged and learning was going on, but then they dinged me on my data notebooks, word wall, board set up and lesson plans. They seem so caught up with the intangibles that the actual teaching becomes secondary.

People are also afraid of principals and worried about how their jobs can rest on just their decision if there were no professional contracts. I once worked at a school where 13 of the 17 teachers either went to the same church as the principal or were related to someone who did. Now she was a good principal but what if he wasn’t and had a nephew who needed a job, she could just let someone go and the teacher would have no recourse. Could you imagine a school where all the teachers were religious or not, republican or democrat? That could easily happen as principals would be able to shape their staffs like never before. This is because principals are given no set in stone guidelines to do evaluations, just general guidelines and people would be ignorant to think personal feeling and beliefs weren’t involved in many evaluations?

What has teachers in an uproar at my school (besides senate bill six that is) is the principal is telling people if to many of their students have d's and f's or if they have to many behavior problems they can't get high performing. There are different types of d's and f's, some come because of a lack of effort by the student not understanding and some because the teacher is rigorous and expects a certain quality of work out of people. Furthermore sometimes discipline problems can come because of poor classroom management but other times because the teacher demands that children act appropriately and doesn't ignore it if they don't. A colleague pondered, so if I gave kids good grades and accepted any behavior would that make me high performing? I quipped back, only if you wore a tie too.

But did you notice what those things have in common? They have nothing to do with gains on the f-cat, we haven't gotten the results and won't get them for weeks if not months. How children do on the f-cat plays no role in how teachers are evaluated and never has. In the future are teachers going to have to wait till the middle of summer or longer (when the f0cat scores come out) to find out if they have a job or not?

There are so many variables and when we throw in senate bill six, a monkey wrench takes the whole system down. Until we replace the f-cat, how are elective and special ed teachers that teach kids who don’t take standardized tests going to be evaluated, there is no history test either. If a kid transfers in do they count, what about kids that don’t care or miss a lot of days. Would different classes have levels of difficulty assigned to them, a two point gain in one class might be ho hum, but in another deserve a parade and that’s even if both classes were the same subject and grade. Then think about the kids at the magnet schools, imagine a teacher whose class made all fives on the f-cat but none of their kids made any gains because they were already so advanced? Would that teacher only get half pay? As she stands in the unemployment line she might think to herself, if only my kids wouldn’t have tried as hard the year before, I might have stood a chance.

The question was not an easy one to answer, and the answer is definitely not in senate bill six. There are so many variables that need to be considered.

I however recognize that people want an evaluation process so off the top of my head I would say a combination of evaluations done by different people, student gains, intangibles and a bit of understanding that teaching is different from most jobs.

I do know that if we go to a one year contract, I won’t survive, I speak my mind and stick up for my kids and I also have high expectations for them too (yes Johnny I know it’s a Friday but we have things to do anyways), all traits which are becoming highly undesirable in modern education.

Senate Bill Six
Senate bill six passed but four republicans voted against it and, that's practically a referendum as the senate usually votes strictly along party lines. You have to hand it to the republicans though as they pushed the bill through in just four working days. I believe they did so in the hopes that it will be out of the headlines and quickly forgotten.

For those of you that like the bill any idea how they are going to pay teachers? If they make my salary the same as a first year, since experience and education no longer play a factor and pay me half my salary during the year, I would make around 1100 a month which is about 200 less than what all my bills are, thankfully I don't have children, those teachers will really be in trouble. I wonder if teachers will now be eligible for well fare and food stamps? Florida if you allow this bill to stand that's what you will reduce teachers to, well for the few that stay that is.

Future Headlines
The education headlines have been Florida Legislature works to improve education through senate bill six. Let’s take a moment shall we and look at what the future headlines will look like should it be passed into law.

Teacher fired after all students make five on F-Cat: “I knew it was going to be tough taking over that class. All the kids were so well behaved and interested in learning. If only some would have tried a little less the year before I may have had a chance.” The principal shrugged his shoulders and said, “her children didn’t make gains I had no choice but to let her go.”

The legislature commissioned the building of fifteen golf courses to be managed by the new Department of Golf (DOG): John thrasher commented as he warmed up for nine holes, “We have to spend the money somewhere. After all since those lazy teachers don’t want to do their jobs and make their kids get gains, we have a lot extra.”

Thousands of children show up for first day of school: A perplexed superintendant said, “This is really strange all of these children received vouchers.” The Council of Private Schools released a statement, which in part said, no shoes, no shirt, no service.

McDonalds’ announces bachelors’ degree requirement for employment: “I got a guy with a masters making fries and two with bachelors flipping burgers. Unless you got a doctorate you don’t go near the customers.” The manager at the Normandy location said. Former biology teacher Doctor Arthur Jones commented, “Once the teacher merit pay bill passed, I took a job here, the pays just as good and it’s less stressful, now would you like fries with that.”

New class size amendment passes: Passing by a narrow margin, the state is now required to have no more than sixty-two students in a class. The school board commented, “It will be tight but I think we have just enough teachers to make it work.”

Archeologist discovers rare artifact: report card with good grades. Haven’t’ seen one of these in so long it took me a while to figure out what the two lines leaning towards each other with another half way down connecting them was.

Teachers off unappreciated list: teachers are no longer on the top of the list of the most underappreciated professions around. Since they have all been replaced by computers and trained monkeys they no longer qualify. Trained monkeys now top list.

UF Anthropologists discover long thought extinct species in Europe: The last respected teachers were discovered working at a small school in Belgium. As the anthropologist watched them from afar he whispered, “I didn’t think I would see any of them again as all the ones in Florida died out years ago.”

Traffic jams on 10 and 295 shut highways down : Teachers fleeing the state run into gridlock. Republican Party says; “don’t let the door hit you where the good lord split you.”

Senate bill six as it is, is a disaster of epic proportions waiting to happen, and that’s not hyperbole, that’s the truth. Furthermore it’s also a thinly veiled attempt to punish teachers unions for not supporting a roll back of the class size amendment and why would they, teachers are advocates for children after all and for not jumping for joy over the Race to the Top grants, the only federal democratic initiative the state government seems to have embraced, besides the stimulus that is. I find it interesting how most politicians in Tallahassee complain about Washington but stick out their hand when money is involved. .
Finally, the bill however doesn’t stop there, it will have the additional consequences of taking away home rule from Florida’s cities and towns, saving money on teacher’s salaries so the legislature can continue to serve special interests more than the children of Florida and rob many of those same children at a chance of a productive future. This last one is not a headline by the way; it’s what will happen.

This is about having our best and brightest in the classroom, John Thrasher said. Well it’s too bad we don’t have our best and brightest in the legislature, because if we did they would see the danger of his proposal. This bill thinly disguises it’s true aims which are to break teachers unions, weaken education so the state can introduce more voucher programs, save money so the state doesn’t have to start taxing special interests to pay for education and to wrest away home rule from the towns and cities of Florida and they shamefully seek to do it with buzz words like achievement, merit, and best and brightest.

And friends don’t think for a second it’s just the teachers of Florida with their necks on the chopping block, the children of Florida are right there with them, If you care about your children and education please let your representatives know to vote against senate bill six and its counterpart in the house.

Charlie Crist indicates
Gov. Charlie Crist indicated Tuesday he would likely sign the measure (senate bill six), depending on the specifics of what passes the Senate and House. "That's how it is for most of us: You do well, you keep your job," Crist said. "And it seems to me that that wouldn't be a bad idea in the area of education, too."

With such a complete misunderstanding of what teachers do and with such narrow thinking about how this is going to affect education, is it any wonder that Charlie Crist will be unemployed come November. It’s ironic that the legislature is about to pass a teacher merit pay bill, when there is so little merit in Tallahassee. If you care about your children and education please let your representatives know to vote against senate bill six and its counterpart in the house.

Image problems
Acording to the Times Union the school board thinks they have an image problems and are considering hiring somebody to fix them, well rather than hiring another 100k employees I have a suggestion. Stop exaggerating your accomplishments. Just because the state gives the district a grade of B, this does not make it so. Even in the article the school board couldn’t help it as W.C. Gentry is quoted saying, we’re having fewer discipline problems, no Mr. Gentry the truth is we are just ignoring discipline more

Them saying look at us and see how we have made gains with attendance, compass odyssey, the success of magnet schools, special and rigorous programs and by listening to the people before they make decisions, are all exaggerations and half truths, I’ll stop before I say they are out and out lies.

Just because the school board says those things are being successful and improving the district, it does not make it so, and the people of Jacksonville are slowly beginning to realize that. Is it any wonder they have an image problem.

Maybe I can help with that. The truth is there are thousands and thousands of amazing things going on daily across the district, they are the interactions between students and teachers that take place despite the obstacles the school board sometimes puts in their way. They happen when a light bulb goes off over a student’s head and a teacher shakes their fist not in anger but in excitement because the kid finally got it.

What would help their image problem is the truth, if they said, Jacksonville, we’re in trouble, big trouble, our children are in trouble and it’s going to take all of us working together to get out of it. If they said that, if they just started with the truth, then things could start to change for the better. Until then it won’t matter how many hundred thousand employees they hire to tell the people of Jacksonville that things are great. Nobody will believe them.

Private Schools
In my biology class I teach that one of the characteristics of life is growth and if that’s the case then Jacksonville’s public schools have a big problem because they are not growing, in fact they are doing the opposite, they are shrinking. Over the past decade enrollment in the Duval Public Schools has decreased while enrollment in private schools has increased and where it’s troubling that so many families have chosen to flee the public school system, that’s not the worst of the news. Not the worst by far.

What’s even more disturbing is the combined amount of children attending public and private schools here in Jacksonville has remained relatively stagnate over the last decade, that’s to say very little growth has occurred. Continuing the combined enrollment has even dipped in the last three years. This has happened at the same time most large school districts in Florida have grown. Families with children have started to avoid Jacksonville like we have a sickness. Which begs the question why?

We have a first class port and an international airport. The weather is great year round. We are in a favorable location near the beach with major interstates going through our city, furthermore we are close to numerous entertainment complexes and have a National Football League team. We aren’t experiencing urban sprawl like many other cities and we have lots of room to expand. The city also has a pro business reputation and a low tax base, plus Florida doesn’t have an income tax. With all that going for us shouldn’t businesses and families be flocking to Jacksonville? Yet they are not.

I don’t think it would be unreasonable to suggest that businesses and families are avoiding Jacksonville because of its public school system After all shouldn’t families want what’s best for their children and don’t the mothers and fathers of families make up many of the employees of businesses. Why would families want to bring their children to our city and enroll them in our schools?

The city has a graduation rate that is abysmal and a two tiered system that says where your child goes determines the educational experience they recieve. We socially promote and don’t discipline and the way we treat our disabled children is dreadful. Furthermore the school board is more interested in appearances than doing what’s right. When they talk about gains in attendance, suspensions and advanced placement programs, what they say falls apart with any critical analysis.

It would be disingenuous of me to say it was just the school boards fault as there are many that deserve some blame. There is the legislatures failing to follow the states constitution and properly fund education as well as attempting to rest local control from school districts through funding mandates and senate bill six. There voucher programs which they seek to expand has also siphon away millions of dollars from the public school coffers. The union which as far as I can tell is only concerned with teacher’s salary and time off is also complicit by not fighting many of the Duval County School Boards policies. Then teachers too have to take some responsibility as many toil quietly in toxic classrooms, allow themselves to be bullied into working ten hour days and just generally accept that this is how things are. Finally the citizens of Jacksonville who, either through apathy or ignorance, have allowed things to get this way must accept their fair share of responsibility. With all that working against public education it’s almost a miracle that our schools enrollment, which has been dropping, hasn’t dropped even more. Yes there is truly a lot of blame to go around.

But maybe that’s part of our problem; we’re stuck in the past instead of looking forward. Maybe we should say, mistakes were made, lots of mistakes were made, but there is nothing we can do about yesterday. Instead we have to look forward and try and get this thing going in the right direction. If we can’t do that then what hope do our schools have, and if our schools fail then what hope does our city have?

Families with children all throughout the country have recognized that Jacksonville’s public schools are failing. What’s it going to take for the families in Jacksonville to see it? What has to happen before we the citizens stand up and say enough is enough and demand that changes take place? Public education here in Jacksonville is slipping away do we want to save it or do we want to let it go? If we want to save it we better get moving

The assault on public education in Jacksonville continues. Not only have Florida’s public schools been some of the least funded in the nation but recently we have had the Florida legislatures attempt to roll back the class size amendment followed by John Thrashers ill conceived senate bill six, though the attacks don’t stop there. The latest assault comes from one of our own as Senator Steve Wise has proposed expanding the school voucher program, and regardless of which side of the argument you fall on, you must realize this takes money away from public schools. He says that enrollment in private schools has declined over the last three years from 11.6 percent to 10.9 percent. What he doesn’t mention however, is that Jacksonville is bucking the state wide trend and the percentage of children in private schools here has gone from 19.3% to 20.5%, over the same period of time, well above the state average.

Or maybe he did realize that and just didn’t care that any expansion of the voucher program would disproportionately hurt public schools in Duval County. Which begs the question, shouldn’t he be trying to secure more finances for DCPS rather than not jut supporting bills but introducing ones that will further diminish public schools resources? Don’t the citizens of Jacksonville pay Senator Wise to look out for us rather than hurt us?

It seems to me that the state legislature is trying to dismantle public education. I just wonder what they plan to replace it with is, and think parents should wonder where their children will fit in. If parents wanted to be nervous that would probably be appropriate.

W.C. Gentry
After reading W.C. Gentry's piece calling for keeping an elected school board rather than switiching to an appointed school board I am more convinced than ever that we need an appointed one. He wrote "I learned how the School Board and the administration operate and the extraordinary challenges they face as opposed to the perception of those who presume to know better but seldom get their feet wet." How exactly did he get his feet wet before joining the school board? What classroom did he teach in, what classroom did any of them teach in? It is a fact that none have taught in a Duval County classroom in over a decade and very few of them have ever taught. They are the ones who have been on the sidelines and then with arrogance stepped in. It's the equivalent of a first year med student suddenly becoming the chief of surgery. Is it any wonder they haven't been successful?

He also wrote "The working presumption by Delaney and some other folks appears to be that a mayor of Jacksonville has some preternatural genius and capacity that makes them better than the electorate to choose the School Board." Well Mr. Gentry it doesn't take a genius to see what the school board has been doing hasn't been working, look at the poor graduation rates or check out the halls of many schools or the law and disorder section of the paper where graduate after graduate makes the headlines.

Those like John Delaney and I who are for an appointed school board aren't overwhelmed with the prospect, I think we can agree that government is best when it's closest to the people but this isn't about politics despite the fact the school board and a few other politicians are trying to make it so, it's about what is best for the children. The people that think an appointed school board would be best right now are just tired of seeing children robbed of opportunities to be successful, and their futures, were tired of handcuffed teachers being scapegoated, and we're tired of seeing the future of Jacksonville get dimmer and dimmer. In the end we just believe a change has to be made. Isn't that what people do, they try something and if it doesn't work they try something else? The school board has had the last three decades to try and get the job done, how do you think they are doing?

A common definition of insanity is to the same thing over and over and expect a different outcome, and isn't keeping the school board who brags about a 65% graduation rate, has through dedicated academic magnet schools created a system of haves and have nots, insisting on the promotion of children whether are prepared or not and practically eliminating discipline, insane?

Hope Shortfall
I went to one of the budget meetings the school district is having to discuss the potential 125 million dollar budget short fall. As a believer that education is underfunded I wanted to get a sense of where things were heading. As I left I realized that things were even worse than I imagined but what made me feel that way were not the draconian cuts that are on the horizon.

Superintendant Pratt-Dannals gives a nice presentation. He speaks well, he’s descriptive and he more than the budget short-fall scares the shit out of me. He my friends came off as a true believer that if not checked will help the school board run this district into the ground. Well since we’re already down pretty low make that underground.

He seemed quite proud that the district received a grade of B from the state, while at the same time glossing over the fact we have one of the worse graduation rates and highest dropout rates around. He said, now we are not where we should be, no, but we have made great improvements (7.1% in three years).

He mentioned how so many of our children, more than ever, are taking advanced placement tests. Though he also failed to mention that the rate for passing these tests was abysmal and he also didn’t mention that amount of children taking the tests, not passing them, affects a districts grade. Could this be one of the reasons the state gave Duval County a grade of B?

He discussed how suspension rates were way down (also a factor in determining a districts grade). However he conveniently left out that one of the criteria for principal’s evaluations was how many children they suspend. He also left out that many teachers no longer write referrals preferring toxic learning environments to being questioned about every move they make and then seeing nothing happen to the unruly child.

He talked about how the district has already made so many cuts to the district staff and that departments like maintenance and support had already been cut to the bone. I shook my head and wondered if he was just being obtuse. Nobody wants to see a maintenance man, someone who works on computers or in accounting lose their job but at the same time many people think there are too many people in certificated positions that don’t work directly with children. That’s who I believe people are talking about when it comes to cutting the district staff and I think he knows that.

I found all of this unnerving, but it’s the same double speak the school board has been spewing for years now, so it wasn’t all that unexpected.

What scared me was when he talked about how it was the job of the district to prepare every child for a post secondary education that will enable them to compete in a world class market place. This on the surface sounds great, why wouldn’t we want this? Unfortunately it’s unattainable and I think we should have goals that are both achievable and make sense.

Sadly these words rolled off his tongue not only as if he had said them many times before but as if he believed them too. He almost unbelievably went on to say that even the students that didn’t go to a university would have to complete at least two year certificated programs and he hoped eventually they would be able to have their own business. This is either what he believes or just what he says, but regardless both are wrong.

The truth is for some children if once they graduate they can be productive citizens by getting a job that has both benefits and room for advancement we should be excited about that. Sure we would like everybody to grow up and be doctors, engineers and rocket scientist but since we live in the real world we know that’s not going to happen or we should know that. Furthermore there is no shame in working an honest job or there shouldn’t be anyways. I wonder if Pratt-Dannals averts his eyes from the people working at the Publix or at the YMCA branch that I often see him at and thinks, if only we would have done a little better with this one.

He seemed so proud of the fact that Duval County is ahead of the curve requiring advanced classes like algebra II, chemistry and physics to graduate. As he beamed I wondered to myself, could he pass an algebra II test and how often does he use algebra II in his life. If you asked the same question to me you would get a resounding no and never for you answers. How would you answer those questions? Unfortunately that’s the thing these educators in their ivory towers or politicians far away from the classroom do, they read a study in a journal or think to themselves that sounds nice lets enact it. They do this while at the same time not thinking about what consequences they bring or if they are able to do it themselves.

Don’t get me wrong algebra II, chemistry and physics are fine and important classes and children should be encouraged to take them. However art and music are important classes as well and they are routinely on the chopping black. Why are we forcing kids who want to drive trucks or do other jobs to take classes they will never use? Even many students who do go to college won’t use those classes. I have two bachelors degrees which required a total of 7 hours in science and math in college. I took all but a one credit stat class before I started working on my majors. Before I got to college I took general math as a junior and no math and oceanography as a senior. Am I not successful or capable because I can’t do advanced math?

How many students do you think drop out because they can’t pass algebra II? The requirements are also so rigid that is a kid fails algebra I or geometry one year; they have to take it again while simultaneously talking the next class up the following year. Is it any wonder children drop out or feel like they are in a hopeless situation? Is it any wonder they act up too?

While simultaneously ratcheting up the requirements we are also lowering the bar. The district socially promotes year after year until a child gets to high school and at this point there is nowhere to promote them to. They either sink or swim with these classes. Take a second and look at are graduation and dropout rates and tell me what you think a lot of them are doing. Furthermore did you know that the 70 is the new one hundred when it comes to I.Q. Kids that years ago would have gotten services and accommodations are now just thrown into the general curriculum without safety nets, with just a good luck in your “algebra II class.”

At one point during the question and answer phase somebody asked him about returning the teaching of skills and trades to the district, which brought applause from the crowd. Where he didn’t dismiss the notion out right you could tell he liked the preparing all children for the post secondary model better. What he might not get is that we need plumbers, carpenters, mechanics and numerous other positions as well and these jobs will never be outsourced to India, furthermore they all pay well too. My mechanic recently charged my forty dollars an hour and not only was I grateful to pay it, as I emptied my bank account but it made me consider changing professions, as teachers make considerably less.

Like I said it was scary listening to Superintendant Pratt-Dannals and it wasn’t just the looming budget crisis that I am talking about either. It may have been because as superintendent he is so disconnected with what’s going on, I find that’s a typical problem with the school board and district people. I like to think that they are somehow clueless and that’s why they allow this stuff to go on. But if that is not the case I don’t know which is worse, him believing the things he said or him just saying them. Either way despite the fact he gives a nice presentation, don’t we need a superintendant who is, giving him the benefit of the doubt that he believes what he says, realistic, who operates in the world we have not the world we wish we did.

The way he spoke scared me, I hope it scared you too, scared you enough to do something

Politicians saving Politicians
Politicians it seems are lining up to join the keep the school board elected bandwagon. Councilman Art Shad is so passionate about it he plans to introduce legislation to end the debate and to keep the status quo; several other council members have said they would support the resolution. Is it any wonder that Representative Aubrey Gibson has joined Senator Tony Hill in calling for keeping an elected school board, after all when you strip away their political affiliations and their different positions in the end they are all politicians and I am reminded of that old saying birds of a feather flock together.

I think we need a change, I don’t think we can any longer afford politics as usual but regardless of what side you are on, for an elected or appointed school board, don’t you want to help make the decision instead of having a bunch of politicians tell us what to do? With all due respect to Councilman Shad, Senator Hill and Representative Gibson, why do just a select few get to decide for the city of Jacksonville such an important issue? Isn’t this something that all the citizens of Jacksonville should decide? One of the reasons Shad and Hill site for wanting to have an elected school board is that having an appointed one would usurp the democratic process but aren’t they doing the same when they say the citizens of Jacksonville shouldn’t even have the right to vote on the issue?

They might claim because they are the elected representatives of the people, they represent the will of the people but since this issue has come about after they were elected, in truth they are just representing their own opinions. Who knows how people would have voted if they ran on keeping the status quo.

The notion of an appointed school board has politicians scared. If the citizens can replace an ineffective school board who’s to say that down the road they won’t be able to replace an ineffective councilman, representative or senator? How many politicians would you like to replace right now before their term is up? If we can make changes to how the school board is run maybe we can make changes to how the council and the houses of the legislation are run. I am sure they are wondering where citizens will stop once they have become frustrated enough. Keeping the status quo of low election turnouts and the high rate of incumbency victories benefits politicians, but look around and you decide if it benefits the rest of us. If you are satisfied with how things are you are either a politician or in the minority.

I believe in the government, and understand that we have to pay taxes; they allow us to do collectively what we can’t do individually. I also get people that politics are part of the process but there are some things that should be above politics. Where decisions are made based on what is best not just what is popular. Where what is right is considered not just catch phrases designed to inflame. Education is one such subject.

Educating our children shouldn’t be about politics; it should be about what’s best for the children but make no mistake here in Jacksonville it is all about politics, who you know is so much more important than what you can do. Look at the makeup of our school board; we have Tommy Hazouri a lifelong politician and W.C. Gentry who only ran for the school board after his senatorial bid failed. Then there is Stan Jordan who resigned a few months ago to run for senator Jim King’s seat after he passed away, he couldn’t wait to get a few more rungs up the political latter. I have no doubt if the above school board bids had failed they would have tried to be on the water board or perhaps even tried to become dog catcher.

These novices and the ones that came before have helped create a school district with one of the worse graduation rates and one of the highest dropout rates in Florida. They created the dedicated magnet schools which mean where our children go determines the experience they have. Furthermore they either created or continued the counties unwritten policies of social promotion and ignoring discipline, insist on preparing every student for college whether they have the desire or ability, instead of teaching the ones that don’t want to go trades or skills and to be productive citizens and they continue the abysmal way the county treats our disabled students. This all tells me that the school board should be made up of more than winners of popularity contests. That having an elected school board made up of politicians conducting politics as usual isn’t what’s best for our children. It also tells me it is time for a change. After all the problems with education in Jacksonville have not appeared over night, on the contrary they have been around for decades.

Sadly the problems with education are not just exclusive to Jacksonville either. No child left behind, the F-Cat, the lottery and John Thrashers senate bill 6 are also just a few examples of how politicians have meddled or plan to meddle with education to its detriment.

On the one hand I understand how people might be hesitant to the idea of an appointed school board over an elected one. I agree with most that democracy works best when it’s closest to the people and a mayoral appointed school board would take that one step away from us. This would mean if we didn’t like how they were doing then we would have to vote the mayor out. On the other hand can we really keep doing the same thing over and over expecting a different outcome, in psychology that’s a common definition of crazy?

Furthermore if you are worried a mayor would appoint a board of politicians on their way up or on their way down, lawyers consultants and not one person who had been in a classroom in over a decade let alone a Duval County classroom then you should be in full blown panic mode now, because that’s the makeup of our current school board. Wouldn’t it make more sense for a mayor to appoint a group of teachers, business owners and other experts in education, the best people possible to do the job? After all it will be his head on the line if they fail.

I am not saying the school board is made up of bad people. I am not saying that they aren’t working hard. I am not saying that they don’t care. What I am saying is that they are in over their head and as a result the children of Jacksonville and the city itself are suffering. Even if you don’t like the idea of an appointed school board hopefully you recognize that the district has lots of problems and despite the rosy picture the school board routinely paints things aren’t getting better, it’s the opposite, things are getting worse.

I am also saying I want to help decide if things change or not, after all am I not a citizen, shouldn’t I have that right? I would hope a bunch of politicians even if they disagreed with me wouldn’t take that right away from me or others who felt the same way as me. That my friends, is not how things are supposed to work.

A responce Stan Jordans recent editorial
By the conclusion of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, the United States had won a record 37 medals, the most for the United States in any Winter Games. In 2009 Florida was dead last in what it spent on education. If America would have spent less than every other country how do yu think it would have done?

This Olympic success offers an apt comparison to the job of educating Florida's children. Like the nation, we can feel proud of past accomplishments. Are you saying we should feel good about how the legislation has consistently underfunded education and then burdened and blamed teachers?

But, just as our teams became more successful, common sense reforms and innovation in our schools can bring even better results if we have the courage to embrace change. Common sense yes, like an assessment tool that works, ending social promotions and bringing back discipline.

This is exactly the intent of Senate Bill 6. Really because it seems like the intention is to stick it to the teachers union and ensure nobody will want to work with a large population of children.

Instead of accepting the status quo, I believe Florida's schools can and must do better. Not one teacher I know would argue with that.

This bill establishes reforms in three very important areas of focus:

- Teacher evaluation.

Last year, 99.7 percent of teachers in the state earned a "satisfactory" evaluation, yet 60 percent of our high school students, 40 percent of our middle school students and 30 percent of our elementary students couldn't read on grade level. Clearly, there is a disconnect. I would be very interested in seeing where you got that fact, I believe you made it up but regardless teachers evaluations are done by non-union administrators.

We will not penalize teachers whose students start the school year below grade level. Under this legislation, teachers would be measured on how much their students learn in a year. Also, because we recognize that principals and other teachers can provide valuable feedback to their colleagues, only half of the new evaluation is based on student data. How is this different from what is happening now?
- Merit-based compensation.

Many professionals in Florida are subject to annual reviews and have their compensation linked to how well they meet their goals. Many professionals, are you talking about sales people? What other public profession receives pay based on goals, not the police, not firemen and certainly not politicians.

Asking those we entrust with preparing our kids to compete in the global economy to meet these same sensible measures is surely something we can all agree on. Sensible measures yes, the legislature passing any idea they come up with into a law, no.

Unfortunately, the special interest teacher unions fight evaluations at every turn. At this point you should have just said: I hate the teachers unions because this is what all this is about and pretty much everybody knows it.

In exchange for more money, teachers need to become more accountable for their performances, and school districts need to have greater ability to get rid of ineffective teachers. Isn’t that something the counties should decide and aren’t there already procedures in place?

- Teacher tenure.

Under this legislation, we will no longer provide job security to teachers just because they have crossed enough days off a calendar; job retention will be based on measurable classroom learning gains. And if the principal has a nephew that wants your job or not.

Like the Olympic athletes we cheered while they made our nation proud, we will reward and encourage success while learning and readjusting when we find failures. Speaking of comparing the Olympics to education:

How many Olympic athletes come to daily practice without breakfast, wearing hand me downs and live in neighborhoods filled, with drugs, violence, hopelessness at worse and apathy at best?

How many Gold Medal winners do not have the support of their parents or are told by them that they aren’t important?

How many Olympic coaches have to call a potential Gold Medal winner's home to ask why the athlete hasn't been showing up to practice? Or why the athlete came to practice without supplies?

Do you think the Olympic coaches pay for the athlete’s most basic equipment too? I know teachers who have to pay out of their own salaries so their students will have A PENCIL or TISSUES for the classroom.
How many Olympic coaches are writing up discipline referrals for disruptive athletes who are distracting the rest of the Olympic team from practice?

Ultimately, all of us - parents, teachers, administrators and legislators - have the same goal: Giving Florida's schoolchildren a gold-medal worthy education that puts them ahead of global competition. Just the legislature wants to fund it at tin foil rates and then blame teachers when things don’t work out.

SB 6 is an important reform package that moves us toward that goal. If your goal is setting back education then you are right.

With an assist from Hoping4change

Steven Wise
The assault on public education here in Jacksonville continues. Not only have Florida’s public schools been some of the least funded in the nation but recently we have had the Florida legislatures attempt to roll back the class size amendment followed by John Thrashers ill conceived senate bill six, though the attacks don’t stop there. The latest assault comes from one of our own as Senator Steve Wise has proposed expanding the school voucher program, and regardless of which side of the argument you fall on, you must realize this takes money away from public schools. He says that enrollment in private schools has declined over the last three years from 11.6 percent to 10.9 percent. What he doesn’t mention however, is that Jacksonville is bucking the state wide trend and the percentage of children in private schools here has gone from 19.3% to 20.5%, over the same period of time, well above the state average.

Or maybe he did realize that and just didn’t care that any expansion of the voucher program would disproportionately hurt public schools in Duval County. Which begs the question, shouldn’t he be trying to secure more finances for DCPS rather than not jut supporting bills but introducing ones that will further diminish public schools resources? Don’t the citizens of Jacksonville pay Senator Wise to look out for us rather than hurt us?

It seems to me that the state legislature is trying to dismantle public education. I just wonder what they plan to replace it with is, and parents should wonder where their children will fit in.

The will of the people
With all due respect to Councilman Shad and Senator Hill why do they get to decide if the city of Jacksonville should have an appointed school board or not. One of the reasons they site is that having an appointed school board would usurp the democratic process but aren’t they doing the same when they say the citizens of Jacksonville shouldn’t even have the right to vote on the issue?

They might claim because they are the elected representatives of the people, they represent the will of the people but since this issue has come about after they were elected, in truth they are just representing their own opinions. Who knows how people would have voted if they ran on keeping the status quo.

I am for an appointed school board. Jacksonville cannot keep doing the same thing over and over and keep expecting a different outcome. The problems in education did not just appear over night and many of us think despite what the school board would have you believe things are getting worse not better. Though regardless of which side of the issue you fall on, shouldn’t we the people get to make the decision?

I read Brenda Priestly Jackson’s remarks on how the charter review commission recommending the mayor appoints the school board had affected the morale of certain people and I couldn’t agree with her more. All over the city parents, teachers and even some administrators are excited that finally somebody who knows what they are doing will be in charge. The charter review commission has in affect raised morale.

Now I don’t agree with all the charter review commission’s recommendations but I can look at the cities graduation rates and dropout rates and see that a change has to occur. Maybe I would feel differently if the school boards solution for the education crisis, and make no mistake it is a crisis, was different than engage in a program of social promotions and ignoring discipline while at the same time blaming teachers when the gains they want aren’t miraculously achieved. If anything should hurt morale it’s the job that the school board is already doing.

The school board
When it comes to an elected verse appointed the school board, I think democracy works best when it’s closest to the people, when they get to pick who represents them, in theory there is more accountability that way, an appointed school board would move this accountability farther away. Then if a mayor did get the power to appoint a school board, I have a lot of trepidation that they would appoint a group of politicians on their way up or their way down, lawyers, consultants and nobody who had been in a classroom let alone a Duval County classroom in over a decade. What makes me a little less fearful of that prospect is that’s already the makeup of the school board, but I still think that’s a legitimate concern for me and other people to have. Yet despite this I think we should have an appointed school board.

It’s not because of the high dropout rates and abysmal graduation rates. It’s not because of the two tiered system of education where what school your child goes to dictates what type of educational experience your child has. It’s not because the county has gutted the teaching of trades and skills and insisted all children be forced into a go to college track whether they are interested in or prepared for it or not. No the reason is because at the school I teach at we heard 16-20 severely disabled students into the same classroom. That’s shameful.

There is an old thought that says the mark of a society is based on how it treats its most unfortunate members. If that’s the case our school board has more than failed and doesn’t deserve my or anybodies support.
Middle school swap
The proposal to switch several middle schools around has met with some opposition. One of the parents mentioned in the article said they felt the school board had already made up its mind before asking for input from parents, teachers or the public and I too have found this often to be the case. What I think some people are missing, is the districts desire to create a, for a lack of better words, a magnet school for those children who are behind grade level.

The creation of this type of school is long overdue. In Duval County the powers-that-be have just pushed struggling children along, just hoping they would catch up the following year. Sadly the opposite usually happened and it led the dismal state of our high schools where if we don’t count the four dedicated magnets, eleven out of fifteen are either failing or in a turn around status.

As a frequent critic of the school board it would be disingenuous of me not to acknowledge when they finally do something right and if they plan to create a program to help struggling students catch up then they should be applauded.

Maybe they are finally listening to the people.

John Thrasher
John Thrasher is a pretty skilled politician; you have to give him that. Just as people should be clamoring for the state legislature to do the right thing and finance the class size amendment, he effectively eliminated the group that would have fought him the hardest and that’s teachers. He did so by proposing legislation to end teacher’s tenure and to tie half their wages to student performance. Now instead of fighting a battle that would benefit the children of the state, teachers are fighting for their jobs.

To the uniformed tying a teacher’s salary to how well their kids do might sound like a good idea, they just don’t know that teaching depends on so many things. Do you have the resources and support from the school to adequately do so, does the child attend and have involved parents and then you have to add what all their previous teachers taught them as well to the mix. These are just a few factors that come before any individual’s ability to teach.

The teachers I know are fine with being held accountable for the job they do, they are comfortable with assessments, though most don’t like the f-cat and more than a few even like the idea of merit pay. What frustrates them is they know, unlike our legislature and John Thrasher, that putting all teachers into the same merit pay formula hampers not helps education.

The problem with education
One of the biggest problems with education is the Florida Legislature. The body has few former teachers or the ones that did, did so long ago, yet despite this they think they know it all. Some mettle and tinker and throw out half baked ideas like John Thrashers latest one. Other members don’t like unions though there’s no evidence that I have seen that unions protect bad teachers and since teachers in Florida can’t strike nor or are they particularly well paid; it’s hard to understand why. Then there are a few more that think vouchers and charter schools are the solution and that the days of public education should come to an end but what they either don’t realize or just don’t care is that they bring many problems with them as well.

If you want to see education improve get rid of the Florida Department of Education and bar the legislature from interfering with local school districts other than approving each individual counties standardized test and procedures for which they hire teachers. If we believe in home rule isn’t that all they should be doing anyways?

A lack of funding, the f-cat, taking away teacher’s tenure, the lottery are all designed by Tallahassee to pull the wool over the public’s eyes, to distract them from one of the real problems which is the legislature itself.

Deep Cuts
I am not a big fan of our school board but I believe Superintendant Pratt-Dannals when he talks about how devastating the upcoming cuts will be. If you’re wondering what will happen if the legislature doesn’t do their job, dozens if not hundreds of teachers and support staff will lose their jobs. Those that remain will have their raises canceled and benefits reduced. Programs like art, music, physical education and many other electives will be eliminated as will field trips, extracurricular activities, most supplies, and teacher training and after school programs. Services for the disabled will be curtailed and social work, librarian and nursing positions will be cut. Even with all those cut’s the state will still have to roll back the class size amendment.

In effect education in Jacksonville will become fewer already over worked teachers doing more for less without supplies servicing more kids who will have fewer options. Is that the future you want for our schools and our children. If you think are school district is struggling now, and I do, the budget cuts are about to make things a whole lot worse.

Education Apolcalypse
The apocalyptic 178 million budget shortfall predicted earlier this year for the Duval County school board was narrowly averted, now we will just have to cut a simply devastating 44 million dollars. I can imagine our representatives in Tallahassee high fiving each other and waving their arms around each other like they had just won the championship or like they had done something good and noble; instead I believe they should have put their heads down and snuck home in shame, because to many of us it seems like they haven’t given education their all. Let’s examine what they actually did before we breathe a sigh of relief and continue through the day with the thought that education has been saved.

First the school board still needs to cut forty-four million dollars. Most of this will come from people losing their jobs. The legislature used one-time money (the federal stimulus) that they will not get again, to plug the holes in this year’s budget; this means they are hoping this economic downturn will be a short one. I sure hope their crystal ball is better than the one I used to predict last Saturdays lottery numbers. They waived the class size amendment paving the way for super large classes as opposed to the just large classes we have now. They have allowed districts to use money designated for capital projects, such as building and renovating schools and outfitting them with technology to be used to pay peoples salaries and the light bill. I guess it’s a good thing we won’t need any new schools or new technology for a while, oh wait if we want to be competitive and have first class schools we will. Finally they did nothing to improve us from fiftieth place in education spending, but then again I guess somebody has to come in last, they did however manage to make sure bottled water is still tax free, friends that’s right it appears as if bottled water is more important to the legislature than our children.

This is what our legislature did; shall we now get our tax free bottled waters and start dancing in the streets?

In reality they haven’t stopped the crisis, they have just staved it off temporarily, unless you are one of the hundreds of people here in Duval County and thousands throughout the state who are going to lose their jobs or you’re a student who will once again be short changed by the legislature. We have stood back and waited for Tallahassee to do what is right and above is what we have received.

A commonly used definition of insanity, is doing the same thing over and over but expecting a different outcome, well friends us sitting back and waiting for Tallahassee to do the right thing is what psychologists call, “bat-sh*t crazy”. The next time the legislature does the right thing as far as education is concerned may very well be the first time. Remember this is the same legislature who has consistently cut spending to education and children’s programs and who has used lottery money, which was sold to the public as an education enhancement, to replace education money, which means as lottery sales fell so did education funding.

The legislature is either unwilling or doesn’t know how to do the right thing, and it’s time we the citizens of Jacksonville said enough is enough, if they’re not going to make education and our children a priority then we are. It’s time we said, we don’t agree with you Tallahassee that education is not important and we feel that preparing our children is one of the, if not the most important job a community has.

We could do two things that would immediately help out our district. First we should follow the model of several south Florida districts, and pass a once cent sales tax with the money being solely dedicated to children and children’s issues. I am not just talking about schools. We could have more before and after school programs, juvenile justice programs, and mentoring and tutoring programs. It is a long known fact that prevention works much better than intervention and is ultimately cheaper as well. Some of the money would go to schools but in reality our children need so much there are other areas much of it could be spent in.

Next we should waive schools electricity bills. Every year the district spends millions and millions of dollars on electricity; this is one public entity paying another public entity for services. This saved money could pay for athletics, teacher training, the arts, or smaller class sizes, all things that are being cut or disregarded now. The JEA needs to tell our children we’re going to let you have lights in your classrooms for free. For years them being exempt from property taxes has cost schools, it’s time they started doing their share.

If we did these two things we would have more control over what happens to our children, instead of letting their fate be in the hands of a legislative body some three hundred miles away that up to this point seemingly hasn’t cared about us or our children. Remember it was only recently that they started to fund our schools at the same level they funded the schools in south Florida. For far too long northeast Florida has been the step child of the state and again I say enough is enough, but it’s going to require us to do it, for us to stand up and say we’re not going to take it anymore.

Now that you have my take let me sit down and brace myself, brace myself for all the, we can’t throw money at the problem to solve the problem, rebuttals.

First let me agree with a couple of your points and I know what they are because I have heard them over and over. I agree that here in Duval County we have been misallocating our resources for decades. We dole out money to schools equally even if the needs aren’t equal. I agree we need to make wiser choices when we are spending our money. We have wasted money on Americas Choice, Advanced Placement tests, unvetted superintendants and dozens of other education fads of the moment only to be quickly replaced by different ones. Furthermore our leadership needs to start being concerned with all of its students not just the few who attend a couple magnet schools no matter how successful they are. The surrounding districts have as many failing schools as magnet schools and that is none. I agree that there are issues aplenty here in Duval County, but the answers to these problems are not to just hope it goes away or to blame teachers.

If we can make sure children are properly cared for and supervised, if we can make sure they have the resources they need to be successful, if we can provide them opportunities to be mentored or with summer and after school jobs, if we the adults of the community will take responsibility for them, then we can dramatically increase the chance they will be successful, that they will be contributing members to our city and our city will grow and prosper because of it. The thing is all this requires money, money we haven’t been spending, money we haven’t been investing.

The way I see it our options are limited. We can continue to hope Tallahassee does the right thing, the equivalent of doing nothing, or we can take responsibility and do what is needed, the equivalent of the right thing, after all doesn’t our city and don’t our children deserve that we do that.

Shakespherean Tragedy
“It’s a GD Shakespearean tragedy that teachers are about to start living in.” These were the words a colleague said to me when talking about John Thrashers legislation to end home rule for school districts by enacting statewide merit pay for teachers. In case you missed it he wants to end tenure for teachers and tie half their pay to student performance. I shook my head and hoped people wouldn’t get distracted, which is what I think John Thrasher wants to happen, from the real issue which is the states bungling of education.

The republican legislature wants to roll back the class size amendment and teachers oppose this, is it just coincidence that the legislature now attacks teacher’s tenure? In that scenario everyone loses, the teachers and the citizens and children of Florida too. I just wonder if the legislature is hoping to broker some backroom deal with teachers. They will say support a roll back of the class size amendment and we’ll withdraw the end of tenure proposal. If that happens I pray teachers call their bluff or fight it to the bitter end because what the legislature is proposing not only puts the nail in the coffin of education, but covers it with dirt as well..

John Thrashers yells blame the teacher while simultaneously hoping the citizens of Florida ignore the mismanagement of education by our state government. Slashing funds to education, creating the unmanageable f-cat, baiting the people with the promise of more money for education through the lottery then switching the money out and then requiring teachers to waste their time with whatever boondoggle solution that any mid level staffer or higher comes up with are hurting education far more than the “bad teachers”.

I loved Mark Pudlow of the Florida Education Associations quote, “I think the whole bill has just got so, so many problems that it’s very difficult to single out one of them.” Well if it didn’t it wouldn’t be from our legislation now would it.

Spending just five minutes on my own, I came up with the following.

How are teachers that teach history, electives, special education, middle school science or other subjects whose children aren’t measured by standardized tests going to be measured?

What incentive are teachers going to have to work on masters’ degrees or higher if having them gives them know tangible benefit.

How are school districts going to find teachers to work with special education students or at struggling schools, why would anybody want to work with them or there or in any places where gains are low and the likelihood of you getting paid less is high.

Are there going to be degrees of difficulty assigned to schools, because a 3 percent gain at some schools deserves a parade where a three percent gain at another school might deserve a shrug.

What about degrees of difficulty for parental involvement? If a student’s parents are uninvolved can teachers document that and get credited for it?

Are teachers going to be responsible for students that transfer in after the year begins, how are they going to be factored into a teacher’s pay?

It’s the nature of the beast that many first year teachers struggle and it takes them a few years to get going full speed. Are they going to be in the same merit pay system or are we going to give them a draw like many sales companies give to their employees until they get going?

Will teachers have the option of playing it safe with better kids or doubling down hoping for a bigger bonus by taking on the more troubled children?

Is the state going to compare teachers all across the state or just from county to county, would teachers in poorer counties who have to do more with less get bigger bonuses for gains?

Here in Jacksonville how are they going to manage the differences between teachers at the academic magnet schools and the neighborhood schools, the playing fields aren’t exactly fair.

Are teachers that have ESOL and/or special education children in their classes going to get extra points for level of difficulty?

How are teachers to be paid? Are they going to cut teachers’ salaries in half during the year and then give them a big bonus at the end? And if it’s at the end how are they going to tax the big lump sum because my bonus this year was taxed at forty percent?

Is the school board going to end social promotions? I would hate to be a ninth grade English teacher with a half dozen kids socially promoted for years into their class.

Are school districts going to remove or get help for the five percent of kids who corrupt the learning environment or are kids that miss a certain amount of days going to be exempt from influencing a teacher’s grade?

And finally good luck finding teachers to teach at challenged schools, working at the mall is less stressful and if substantial gains determine teachers pay, it’s just as lucrative.

Five minutes later. The teachers I know are fine with being held accountable for the job they do, they are comfortable with assessments and more than a few even like the idea of merit pay. What frustrates them are the almost insurmountable odds stacked against them and they know, unlike our legislature, that unfortunately teaching is just one of the variables in education.

Teaching depends on so many things. Do you have the resources and support from the school to adequately do so, does the child attend and have involved parents and then you add what all their previous teachers taught them to the mix. These are just a few factors that come before an individual’s ability to teach. The bottom line is trying to put all teachers into the same merit pay box hampers not helps education.

One of the biggest problems education has is the legislature. The body has few former teachers or the ones that did, did so long ago, yet despite this they think they know it all. Some mettle and tinker and throw out half baked ideas like Thrashers latest one. Others just don’t like unions though there’s no evidence that I have seen that unions protect bad teachers and since teachers in Florida can’t strike nor or are they particularly well paid; it’s hard to understand why. Then there are a few more that think vouchers and charter schools are the solution and that the days of public education should come to an end but what they either don’t realize or just don’t care is that they bring just as many problems with them.

If you want to see education improve get rid of the Florida Department of Education and bar the legislature from interfering with local school districts other than approving each individual counties standardized test and procedures for which they hire teachers. If we believe in home rule isn’t that all they should be doing anyways?

I just hope the people can see that this is another attempt by the government to pull the wool over their eyes, to distract them from the real problem which is them.

This proposal, the blatant disregard for the hard work and commitment that so many teachers put in, is disheartening.

Save Duval Schools
Save Duval Schools is a grassroots organization here in Jacksonville that is dedicated to finding sustainable sources of funding for public education and then ensuring there is more local control over how it is spent. Since I think that Tallahassee has been both borderline criminal in how they fund education and many of the things they ask teachers to do, don’t make sense, right there they pretty much had me hook line and sinker.

It didn’t take much to convince me but I am a teacher and I work in the school system that they are trying so hard to help. I have been with the child who is constantly hungry because he doesn’t get enough food and the child who is afraid to go home because he doesn’t know what to expect. I work with the children whose parents say, hey while they are at school they are your problem, and who have no idea what it means to be a parent. Then during my time as a teacher I have taught children who lived in a half dozen foster families in one year alone and so many who been caught up in the juvenile justice system after getting caught up in the wrong crowd. I have known and taught children who really weren’t given much of a chance to succeed and I have seen more than my fair share fall through the cracks of education. No it didn’t take much to convince me at all.

I didn’t even have to look at the cited statistics on their page to be convinced, (
though they too are quite convincing. Despite being in agreement with them, I think Save Duval Schools has two big hurdles to overcome if they want to be successful and they need to start jumping.

First I can see how a lot of people might not be as easily convinced as me. They look at the traditional school system as something that has run its course and it’s hard to disagree with them when they point to the low graduation rates and high dropout rates. I also have a hard time answering why employers, who have had a hard time finding capable and reliable employees who graduated from local schools, should support additional funding. Then let’s face it despite Jacksonville’s location and weather, the city and states pro-business reputation and the fact we don’t have an income tax, outside businesses aren’t exactly beating a path to Jacksonville and it would be ignorant to think that the cities education system doesn’t play a role in that. All this means I think it’s a perfectly reasonable fear that many people have that if they invest more into the school system it will be just like throwing good money after bad. Save Duval Schools has to start convincing them otherwise but the good thing is this hurdle is not insurmountable.

I don’t think people are against helping. The vast majority of citizens want their children, all children to do well and they know having a good education is important. They just want to make sure their money isn’t wasted; they want to know where that where the money is going and that it is important it does so. No longer are people just going to sit back and blindly trust people in elected office to make important financial decisions, and the be honest I think that’s both fair and prudent. That’s also why I think that if Save Duval Schools is to be successful and remember I hope they are, they need to lay out a plan for what they think should happen to additional funding.

Personally I think it should be first used to ensure the class size amendment which the citizens of Florida already approved. I then think the school system needs to hire social workers to provide wrap around services to struggling children. So often them misbehaving or failing is just an extension of what is going on at home. Then we could use money for after school programs including after school detention which would have to include transportation to make sure the kids could get home.

Then with more money the school system could reintroduce the teaching of trades and skills to students more interested in them and bring back summer school and it wouldn’t just be for those who fail but for kids that need maintenance and want to get ahead as well. If we had more finances there could be special programs for students who fall behind and we could stop stealing from our disabled children and start providing them the services they need. Then finally I think teachers are overworked and underpaid and the mantra shouldn’t be do more with less, it should be we are going to give you whatever it takes to succeed. Save Duval Schools and others may have different ideas as to what to do with additional money, because there are plenty of needs but I myself would start with those items listed above.

This brings us to their second hurdle which I think is even greater than expecting people to chip in for something that many people have lost faith in and that’s getting the state to the right thing, their job which is sadly something they haven’t been doing.

It’s right there in the Florida constitution…

Florida Constitution, Article 9: SECTION 1. Public education.
(a) The education of children is a fundamental value of the people of the State of Florida. It is, therefore, a paramount duty of the state to make adequate provision for the education of all children residing within its borders. Adequate provision shall be made by law for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education and for the establishment, maintenance, and operation of institutions of higher learning and other public education programs that the needs of the people may require.

…though I think the legislature interprets that part of the constitution as; tax breaks for the rich and let’s build more prisons. When it comes to this part of the constitution the legislature haven’t just abdicated their responsibility, they have spin, folded and mutilated it.

I don’t think the children of Jacksonville can wait any longer for the state to meet its responsibilities and I think Save Duval Schools is being naive if they think they will. Especially in light of the fact they are currently trying to circumnavigate the will of the people by rolling back the class size amendment. Waiting for them to for the right thing is like waiting for a lottery (another bait and switch program they introduced to help education but has had at best questionable results) sure it might happen but the odds are slim and the people of Jacksonville shouldn’t plan on it.

I think Save Duval Schools would be better served by getting initiatives on the ballot calling for a one cent better Jacksonville style sales tax for children’s issues; several counties in southeast Florida already have one and/or an initiative calling for free electricity for Jacksonville’s schools. They could also lobby our national delegation to propose measures to eliminate payroll taxes for school districts. All of these measures would put additional money into educations coffers and allow us to get away from the dream that the state will finally step up and do the right thing.

Save Duval Schools has a noble and important goal that I support. Now they just need to convince the rest of the citizens of Jacksonville which is a formable task and the legislature which may be an impossible one.

Cars, Cars and more Cars
I recently received a note saying that the school board had replaced their fleet of 54 cars at a cost of a little less than a million dollars. In these tough economic times I was outraged. I thought how dare they spend one penny on anything other than that what is absolutely necessary. Since I thought that aan you imagine my outrage when I found out that in actuality they just replaced ten percent of their vehicle fleet and this wasn’t a onetime event? That’s right; it means that each year the school board spends around a million dollars on new vehicles and untold thousands of dollars on upkeep and maintenance. When I went to my school and asked my coworkers to guess how many cars the Duval County School Board actually owned, none of them were even remotely close.

The school board has a fleet of 519 cars and trucks; before I got my note I would have naively bet they had a fleet of zero. Then I thought to myself, well this must include all the cars used for drivers education. I hit myself in the head and thought come on Chris the school boards not some evil entity out to stick it to the children and citizens of Jacksonville that instead that was just a byproduct of what they did.

My blood pressure started to go down and I asked a few more questions expecting to find that the vast majority of the cars were probably used for driver’s education programs. Sadly my pressure going down was short lived as it shot back up after I found out that of the 519 vehicles the county owned only 73 was dedicated to driver’s education. This left 446 cars for other purposes.

I was told the district had 20 vehicles for the Maintenance workforce, 16 for security including the purchase of new SRO vehicles and the remaining 410 were to be used for support functions such as Bulls Bay delivery vehicles, Safety Office, Code Enforcement Office, Transportation, Admin and Technology field support which had 10 vehicles. That’s right the county requires 410 cars for those functions. I felt ignorant. I had no idea that it took so many vehicles to run a school district but then I wondered if any of the vehicles were used as company cars, that’s they were assigned to employees for both business and personal use, so I asked.

I was told by the chief operator of operations support that there were 36 assigned vehicles and “They are assigned vehicles because they are expected to be traveling to and from schools as they perform their security, transportation, school supervision, and maintenance functions. They are allowed to use the vehicle to and from work; they may stop at a market on the way in or going home if it is not out of their way. They may also use the vehicle to go to lunch or if they are attending a work related function after work, such as a school meeting, a work related board meeting or dinner.”

This didn’t sound completely unreasonable to me. I mean if some working stiff needed to go fix a computer or pick something up then why shouldn’t they use a company car or truck. I however was a little disappointed to find out that ten of the people eligible to take home cars made over one hundred thousand dollars in salary a year. I thought that perhaps part the reason for their high salaries was so they could afford reliable transportation to allow them to do their jobs.

Then I started to wonder how many of the districts employees made over a hundred thousand dollars a year so I went to the times unions web-site to look the data up, if you want to look mine up let me save you the time, after nearly ten years of service I am a little under 40.

The superintendant led the way at over 274,000 dollars, but there were 32 others as well and another 36 that made over ninety. Of these 69 a couple dozen were principals but he vast majority were district administrators. In case you were wondering what percentage that represented the district has a little over 12,000 employees.

When comparing Duval to other local districts the results were mixed. Clay County had 24 out of a little over four thousand employees making six figures though St. Johns routinely considered the most affluent county in northeast Florida only has 12 out of a little over three thousand. The city of Jacksonville however had them all beat as 78 out of their less than 3000 employees top the six figure mark, which means perhaps it is time I put my political science degree to work. I did find it interesting that the mayor made almost a hundred thousand less than the superintendant but I digress.

After looking at all these facts and figures my head was now swimming. The DCSB has over a million dollars a year to spend on cars and apparently you can do fairly well financial-wise in education. I always figured unless I won the lottery or married well I would always be poor as a teacher and was okay with that. Now don’t get me wrong, I think teachers are grossly underpaid and I dream of a day when we will be paid more but I wasn’t planning to hold my breath waiting for it. Maybe I am a little jealous that some many of my co-workers are doing so well though I am all for people making as much money as they can, though I thought that would be much easier to do in the public sector.

I am also for education to have as many tools and resources such as cars that they need to be successful. In fact I say all the time, I like my new lap top and I love my new classroom printer. The printer has been such a huge blessing. It has made my job easier and allowed me to give more resources to my students, though I also say I hope they didn’t cost an art-teacher their job.

To me education is woefully underfunded but I can see how the casual observer could look and think the opposite. My rational brain tells me the funding for the cars (and my printer) comes out of capital budgets but my emotional brain tells me that we shouldn’t be spending one dime on anything but people and what is absolutely necessary. I get that we want to attract top talent to top positions and that costs money, but I also think there are hundreds if not thousands of teachers making more of an impact on education than the leadership team is and many of them are struggling to make ends meet.

I will close by saying the school board spent 935,000 dollars to purchase 54 cars for their fleet of more than five hundred the other day. They replace ten percent of their fleet annually. I will leave it up to you to make your individual judgments.
Many Culprits
You won’t find the right to a quality public education in the Bill of Rights but like the right to bear arms, worship how you please and to speak your mind, it has become one of the cornerstones of American society. Sadly there has been much debate whether all the children of Jacksonville are receiving a quality education.

Jacksonville has a long history of neglecting certain segments of our population, i.e. the African American community and even though we have been declared integrated for some time now, some people think now the city has just traded one form of segregation for another. They believe the school board just provides for the top students through academic magnet schools and other programs while neglecting the average or “special” student. But regardless if you believe that or not you must agree that the cities terrible graduation rates, our high dropout rates and the fact that 11-of the 19 area high schools are either failing or in a “turn-around” status are indicative that local public education is in big trouble.

There are many culprits, the school board in its various incarnations, the city and state governments and the citizens of Jacksonville to name a few. Instead of giving education the resources and nurturing it needs, often we have treated education and our children like a tree planted in the woods, that’s just crossing our fingers and hoping for the best. There is another offender to add to that list and that’s the local teachers union.

Now I am not talking about them like the talking heads, Beck, Hannity and Limbaugh do. Where they do have the right to speak their minds it’s just unfortunate how they do so. Instead of using the truth they use random statistics as talking points to prove their point that the teachers unions are to blame for the problems in education, but what’s even more unfortunate is that some people listen to them and actually believe them. They to think the union’s only job is to protect bad teachers and of course like the reality often is when the three mentioned above speak; there is nothing further from the truth.

The waters of the education debate are muddied when people claim the unions’ only goal is to protect bad teachers from losing their jobs, when in truth the only thing the unions are protecting is all teachers’ right to due process. Here in Duval county teachers basically have a three year probation period where they can be let go for basically whatever reason. It’s only after they pass this three year point that they receive protections that can stop them from just being summarily fired. After that point the administration just needs to follow a set of guidelines before they fire a teacher. I remind you that most businesses, even non-union shops have similar procedures in place.

The talking heads often complain about the teachers unions protecting bad teachers but you never hear them saying the same thing about police and fire unions. Wouldn’t it stand to reason if it’s true about teachers it would be true about the police and firemen too? It’s especially ironic when the people of Jacksonville and in the state of Florida blame teachers unions for the woes in education because here they don’t have access to what is traditionally the most powerful weapon in labor disputes and that’s the power to strike.

Furthermore if teachers unions are so powerful then why as a profession are teachers some of the most underpaid, overworked and unappreciated workers around? Why when they shout, hey we need some help, are they often ignored?

Are there teachers that should be replaced? I wouldn’t doubt it but there are procedures in place to do so. And for every teacher that should be replaced there are dozens and dozens more that are underpaid and over worked, who have dedicated their lives and many of their own personal resources to teaching children. These teachers are routinely told to do more with less and suffer in anonymity. These are the people that the union represents; and as dedicated civil servants they are routinely disrespected when people ignorantly repeat the talking point that it’s the teacher’s unions fault when discussing the problems in education.

Though that’s not to say the local DTU doesn’t bear some of the responsibility for the problems in education that Jacksonville is facing.

Every day the union allows the school district to violate Article 4, provision E, clause 1, of the teachers contract which states, for the 180 student-contact days, the employee workday shall be seven and one-third hours, including lunch time on campus. If reports or other assignments are given to teachers, the scope shall be that they can reasonably be completed during the workday, about nine thousand times.

That’s to say today’s teachers are assigned more tasks than they can possibly do in a day. They arrive well before the children do and then leave well after. They take home papers to grade and lesson plans to write every night. They work on the weekend and on their days off rarely getting ahead just avoiding falling too far behind. They do all this for free and away from their families and loved ones. Over worked, burned out teachers aren’t the best to have but that’s what the DTU has allowed the school board to create by the thousands.

Furthermore the DTU has tolerated the school board to creating a two tiered system of education with the creation of the dedicated academic magnet schools and it’s not just two-tiered for students it’s two tiered for teachers as well. Teachers at the highly successful magnet schools don’t have to jump through the same hoops as the teachers at the failing or turn around schools. They also don’t have the same type of child who isn’t interested in learning and who thinks they are entitled and can act however they want.

Then the union has allowed the school board to tie principal’s evaluations to suspensions. This not only takes a tool out of their discipline tool box but it has the added detriment of eroding discipline. So many teachers no longer right referrals because they are questioned or nothing happens. Instead they and the student who does want to learn and there are so many of them have to endure a toxic learning environment.

Finally the school board has allowed an environment of fear to be fostered. Many teachers don’t like to openly talk about the problems in the district because they are afraid there will be repercussions and their careers will be hurt. A bad evaluation here, a disapproving phone call there and suddenly a teacher is no longer eligible for performance pay, can’t transfer, is assigned the planning period or teaching assignment they don’t want and/or has to endure a hostile working environment.

When looking around there are many people responsible for the state of education. There is the school board who seems to be in over their head and whose policies often seem counterintuitive to improving education. Theirs the state government who refuses to fund education at acceptable levels preferring to finance tax breaks for a select few and to try and get education on the cheap. Then there’s the citizens of Jacksonville many of who have turned a blind eye and allowed the problems to fester placing their faith in people who either can’t do the job or who don’t care to. Then finally the local teachers union must share some of the responsibility as well though it’s not because like the talking heads would have you believe that they are protecting bad teachers, it’s because they aren’t protecting the good ones enough.

Billee Bussard
I was disappointed by Billee Bussarad’s editorial about the Charter Review Commissions recommendation that future mayors be able to appoint school boards. In a nut shell she didn’t care for the witnesses called and their ties to education and politics and because of this she doesn’t believe the school board should switch from an elected one to an appointed one.

Maybe she might feel different if the intelligent girl with dyscalculia that the school board gave a special diploma to because she couldn’t pass math or the girl they socially promoted to high school after one year of middle school that couldn’t handle it and would skip school daily to do God-knows-what in the woods or the hundreds of other children put in similar predicaments who have had their lives interrupted had testified.

I wonder if she would have felt differently had the teachers who have been told it didn’t matter what grades they gave to certain children, that they would be socially promoted anyway or talked about how low morale has become and the amount of unpaid hours they are required to be away from their families had spoken to the commission.

Maybe if a few of the students who are lost in a geometry or algebra II class at most turn around schools had spoken about how they arrived to high school without the skills they needed to succeed were given the chance to verbalize their frustrations explaining how this causes many of them to act out and/or drop out, she might have liked that better. Possibly if the students who have had their learning environments hijacked by misbehaving students who receive no consequences for their behavior had spoken up she might have thought the commission was right.

Possibly if some of the young people who routinely make up the law and disorder section of the newspaper had spoken about when they lost hope or their victims and the school board is at least partly responsible for many of them, had spoken, this would have convinced her something needs to be done.

I will close by saying; I am not a corporation or a politician. I lean to the left and I don’t think charter schools and vouchers are the answer. I am just a teacher who wonders how many more children will be robbed of their future and who has to speak before she gets that changes need to be made

In a recent letter to the Times Union, superintendant Pratt-Dannals wrote “Duval County requires all students to complete a post-secondary-ready curriculum, unlike the rest of the state and country.” That’s right, he wrote, unlike the rest of the state and country and in doing so I believe he may have inadvertently revealed one of the biggest problems educations in Jacksonville has and that’s the school board is filled with hubris.

Hubris means extreme haughtiness or arrogance and it often indicates a loss of touch with reality and overestimating one's own competence or capabilities, especially for people in positions of power. And to use an old joke if you were to look up hubris in the dictionary you would find a picture of the Duval County School Board next to the definition. They continue to do things their way despite evidence that they are running things the wrong way; their hubris just causes them to continue to push forward.

I think their hubris began when the success of the dedicated academic magnet schools Paxon and Stanton made the national news. As a result they became so caught up with the success stories that they thought they could duplicate those results at every school and despite eleven of nineteen high schools either failing or being in a turnaround status they keeps them trying. Why have dedicated academic magnets if the requirements are the same everywhere and what they don’t get is that as things are now the magnet schools are hurting the rest of the district. Where you go to school in a public school system shouldn’t determine the type of education you receive and until all schools can exit kids for behavior or grades or all schools can’t then where you go matters and matters a lot.

The DCSB does seem to have a plan to improve; it’s just too bad it’s just a combination of a quick fix that will have consequences and a distinction without a difference. They are hamstringing principal’s power to suspend students and this after the Jacksonville Visions spent two million dollars on suspension centers, by tying their evaluations to suspensions. This not only takes a tool out of their box but it encourages them to encourage, though I have also heard the word cajole, teachers to write fewer referrals. This in turn has a detrimental effect on discipline, that’s a consequence. The reason they are doing this is because suspensions play a role in a districts overall grade.

Another thing that affects a districts grade is children just taking, not necessarily passing, advanced placement tests. Is it any wonder that more students than ever before are taking, though not passing the AP tests. What does it matter if more children are taking the test if they aren’t passing them? That is just a distinction without a difference. At least when Wise was the superintendant it made sense, you see he had ties to College Board the makers of the A.P. tests and then went to work for them once he was let go, so then it was about greed. This current leadership, on the other hand, just seems bound and determined to follow a ridiculous path; it’s as if they can’t admit something they initiated wasn’t working.

The School Board when questioned also points to their new and self created strategic plan as an example of how they plan to turn things around. First the problems we have are not new, they have been building for years and how is it right that they both came up with their goals and decide how well they are doing in meeting them. That’s like me letting the children in my classes come up with their own tests and then grading them too. The school board not thinking the citizens of Jacksonville get this is another is just more hubris.

Continuing, not all students want to or will go to college yet the district continues to force whatever shaped peg a student is into the same go to college hole. Why don’t we have more trades, skills and arts to accommodate their needs too? Why do we require children to take all the way up to algebra II despite the fact the vast majority of students will never use it? Do you know how many dedicated academic magnet schools the surrounding counties have? Well it’s the same amount of failing high schools they have and that’s zero. I also couldn’t find any other county in Florida that had the same high school schedule an A/B block with a daily skinny that we have either. What do these things have in common? It’s the school board trying to be different thinking regardless of the facts the graduation rates and dropout rates are terrible and a third of ninth graders who start won’t finish high school, that whatever they do will just magically work.

It’s not just above either, the school board can’t even seem to get the little things right. There is a wink and a nod policy of social promotions as the C has become the new F. Children don’t suddenly get to high school without the skills they need to be successful, on the contrary they are pushed there and the reason so many high schools are underachieving is because there is nowhere else to push the students to. Then discipline is out of control. So many teachers have given up on writing referrals because either they are questioned or nothing happens. Instead teachers and the students that do want to learn limp through toxic learning environments. How are students going to be competitive in a global market place if they are just pushed along, how are they going to be productive and civil citizens if they don’t learn consequences for their behaviors. How of all things not to get does the school board not get this?

With all that being said I do think we will see improvements next year. It’s just too bad it will be because the school board put yokes on teachers and made them work ten hours a day and on the weekends too. It’s also unfortunate it will come because the county has trashed discipline by tying suspensions to principal’s evaluations and pushed so many children who aren’t ready to take advanced placement tests to take them. Again, suspensions and the amount of children taking, not passing, A.P. tests are part of the grading process.

Now it is a fact that the school system as a whole received a grade of B the last two years, though if the graduation percentage, sixty-five percent, was used as a grade, perhaps a more accurate representation of how we are doing as a school system, then that grade would drop to a D.

I have met Superintendant Pratt-Dannals and several members so of the school board and they all seem like decent, caring people who sincerely want things to improve but you will have to forgive me if some of the things they do make me scratch my head. You will have to forgive me if I think some of the things they do set us back rather than move us forward.

I however did agree with him when he said, it’s time the whole city stood up and gave education attention. Though I think this might back-fire because if people started paying attention they might get a better understanding about the job the school board is doing and then shout for change.

Though regardless of how you think the school board is doing, I believe it’s time the whole city started working together to improve things; it’s only the fate of our city and the fate of our children that are at stake. That’s not hubris speaking that’s reality.

Suggestions to Improve Education
People that hold positions that require a certificate should be required to teach one class a day. They would report to a home school first thing for their class before doing/resuming their district duties. If the school board expects teachers to work ten hour days they should likewise expect the district staff to work ten hours a day. This could help with the upcoming class size amendment. The district staff could see what does work and what doesn’t work in the classroom. There is a huge disconnect with teachers and the district staff this will help bridge that gap. I also think principals, assistant principals, academic coaches and deans assigned to schools should be required to teach one class a day.

School board members should be required to substitute teach in their district once per week. There is also a disconnect with what goes on in the classroom and what the school board thinks should be going on in the classroom. They would get a better understanding of what’s going on if they were actually in the trenches.

Allow juniors who have passed the f-cat and have a 3.0 average test out of their senior year. A lot of student’s senior years are filled with electives and classes they will easily past. Why not let some start the next phase of their lives early. Offer it a week before graduation and charge 150 dollars. Or allow them to take it half way through their senior years have a district wide graduation ceremony.

Part time teachers could be hired to teach just one or two classes a day, think adjuncts in college; pay them 15-20 dollars an hour depending on experience, provide them lesson plans, curriculums and materials to teach. These teachers could teach the required after school classes for students who have fallen behind.

Instead of paying teachers their normal rate over the summer reduce it to 15-20 dollars an hour. So many teachers look for part time jobs anyway and this would allow the district to hire more teachers to pay for more summer school classes.

Change teacher’s salaries. Statistics show a significant amount of teachers don’t last five years, yet the salary difference between a first year teacher and a tenth year teach is negligible. Pay first year teachers less and teachers who have been doing it for a while that have proved they can do it, significantly more.

Nobody who works for the school board should make more than 100 thousand dollars; if people want to be rich they should go into the private sector. I do however think teachers who have proven they can do the job and have done the job consistently well over time should be paid considerably more.

Get the JEA to pay property taxes or waive electricity fees.

A one cent sales tax to help finance education issues.

Students in grades 3-11 that don’t have a 2.0 G.P.A. in their core academic classes at the end of the year should be required to go to summer school for promotion. The summer school could be for maintenance, for acquiring additional skills and/or to give them a step up for the following year. If they don’t go they are not promoted. If parents know that this can happen then they may rethink their level of involvement.

Students in grades 6-11 that have failed a core academic class should be required to stay after school for an additional class for at least the following nine weeks or until their grades improve for extra academic assistance.

Drop algebra II as a requirement of graduation at the neighborhood schools. Why have academic magnet schools if the requirements for graduation are the same at all schools. When a kid fails a math class in high school they often have to take two math classes at a time which exacerbates the problem. Algebra II could still be offered at the neighborhood schools for students interested in related fields.

Make classes in high school no longer than sixty minutes at least in the neighborhood schools. The school board might not like to hear it but there is a lot of downtime involved in ninety minute classes which cut down on the amount of instruction kids get. You hear it all the time from teachers, from minute 1-60 the kids are engaged but after that it gets more difficult. Children often begin to lose focus the longer classes go which means they learn less and act out more.

Let teachers know what is to be covered in nine week increments then test at the end of the nine weeks. Make the topics to be covered reasonable and then let the teachers cover them how they want. The school board should be more worried about student output (how they do) than the manner of teacher input (how the teachers teach). Every nine weeks the district would have a picture to see how both the teachers and students are doing.

Magnet schools for students who have failed two or more times: instead of just having magnet programs for the best students the ones who arguably need the extra resources the least we should have specialized programs for the students who need them the most, those students who have failed multiple times.

If we did that we could stop social promotions due to age. Instead they would go to the specialized school with the specialized programs until they caught up.

Streamline the process for removing maladaptive students. If a student gets five referrals in a nine weeks for any infraction, two for fighting or one for threatening a school board employee they should be removed to a stricter environment for the rest of the nine weeks and the next one. If we got serious on discipline we could make great strides in improving the academic environment. If a student has a grade point average less than one after a semester then it should be even easier to remove them for repeated violations of the code of conduct. There are some students whose whole aim for going to school is disrupting the learning process and they should be dealt with.

Don't tie principal’s evaluations to suspensions. That takes a tool out of their box and encourages them to encourage teachers not to write referrals. Many teachers endure bad teaching environments rather than writing students up and seeing nothing happened or get questioned for doing so.

Don’t run from discipline. Children need consequences for their behavior or their behavior will worsen and remember for a consequence to be effective it must be meaningful. We must come up with meaningful consequences and trust that teachers only write children up as a last resort until they prove otherwise.

Instead of having suspension centers use the 2 million dollar to hire forty social workers. Often when a student acts up or does poorly at school this is a symptom of their home life. Forty social workers could have a caseload of 30 each that would be 1200 of the children who are in the most trouble. Instead of just treating the result of a student’s behavior, the suspension, perhaps we could get to the root of the students problems and provide services and referrals when applicable.

Specialized classes for seniors that have not passed the f-cat. Seniors who have not passed the f-cat should have one academic mission and that’s to pass the f-cat so they can graduate with standard diplomas.

All middle and high schools should have city bus stops. Students should be allowed to use their school ids for free rides. This opens up numerous opportunities including assisting with transporting students home who were required to stay after school for grade improvement/maintenance.

Bring back summer gym. Could help with the obesity issue, provide lunches for children over the summer, give students an additional credit and would provide a safe structured environment

Generations of African Americans were robbed of their rights and a chance of a decent education here in Jacksonville and that’s not hyperbole that’s just how it was. Exacerbating matters, our cities leaders were resistant to change even as the writing appeared on the wall during the civil rights movement of the sixties. It was kicking and screaming that they agreed to bussing in 1971 when the best solution would have been to provide the proper resources to all the schools regardless of what side of town they were in. Though I can imagine any trepidation the leaders of the black community may have had if that promise would have come through after all they were the recipients of the systematic abuse and discrimination. Unfortunately bussing didn’t work as well as well as some would have hoped.

Children were forced to travel many miles from their homes to unfamiliar parts of town when there was often a neighborhood school close by. African American opponents believed it created problems with discipline and eroded away the cohesiveness of neighborhoods. White opponents claimed their children were being sent to dangerous neighborhoods. Both groups thought it hurt parental involvement and extra-curricular activities and some people think it worsened the problems of economic and racial segregation by encouraging white flight (white families moving to suburbs). It would be disingenuous of me to blame all these problems on the school district because bussing was the nations plan and like the rest of the nation Duval County gave it the old college try.

The next thing the Duval County School District tried was the creation of magnet schools to be located in predominantly African American areas of town. They thought specialized programs could recruit whites to voluntarily travel out of their neighborhoods and they were right. The magnet schools have been an amazing success that at the same time created a whole new set of problems.

They have created a two-tiered system of education of have and have not’s. And however the school board twists the facts they are basically glorified private schools financed by the tax payers dime. Where your students go to school in Jacksonville partly determines what type of education they receive and in a public school system that should be unacceptable. But worse than that the school board has come to believe the hype generated by the academic magnet schools and thinks they can duplicate that success at all the schools and the reality is they can’t, though the school board keeps on trying.

Which begs the question, why do we have academic magnet schools if the graduation requirements such as taking and passing algebra II are the same at all schools. Where preparing every student for college is a laudable goal, it’s also a completely unrealistic goal. Not every child is interested in going to college but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stimulate their growth, interests and needs too.

The county has practically eliminated the teaching of trades and skills despite the fact that’s a lot closer to what many students want to do and are interested in. Plumbers, electricians, mechanics, carpenters, chefs, cosmetologists and day care workers will never be outsourced to India and many of those professions make as much if not more than professions that require college degrees. Furthermore many of the kids that do go to college will get liberal arts degrees and why don’t we cater to them as well instead of just catering to the math/science crowd.

Somewhere along the way the School Board also initiated an unwritten with a wink and a nod policy of social promotions. If you want proof of this look at the eleven of nineteen failing or turnaround high schools. Children didn’t arrive there and suddenly forget what they had learned. On the contrary they never learned it and were pushed along. I don’t blame elementary and middle school teachers for this. It’s gotten so difficult to fail children and often teachers are called to the mat if they try and do so. Because of this some teachers have told me the C is the new F. The thing is once they get to high school there is nowhere else to promote them to and they are forced to sink or swim with a lot of sinking going on. Social promotions have in effect dumbed down the district, unless of course you are attending one of the academic magnet schools.

If you don’t daily see the frustration on lost children’s faces you might be able to get a sense of the reasoning behind it. Children that fail are more prone to drop out, though what the powers-that-be didn’t take into account was children that have fallen behind don’t always catch up, in fact it’s often the opposite that happens and they fall farther and farther behind.

At the same time the school board started their push to prepare every student for college or what I like to call put every peg regardless of shape into a round hole, they also went soft with discipline too. Like with so many other things they have done I can recognize there may have been some noble reasoning behind it. There was a whole movement afoot for a while, which called for a kinder gentler approach to discipline that the county got behind, unfortunately the county got that wrong as well and have nearly gutted discipline as a result. Many teachers have stopped writing kids up preferring the toxic learning environment rather than being called to the mat for having dared written a referral or have the children receive no consequences for their actions. It’s a waste of my time they often say. Furthermore it doesn’t help that Principal’s evaluations are party determined by how many children they suspend. That effectively takes a tool out of their box when it comes to discipline.

Short of selling drugs or beating up a school board employee it is nearly impossible to remove a child from a school even if they are a constant discipline problem and are failing all their classes. These children often hijack the learning environment and not only stop teachers from doing their job but other students from learning as well. And if you were wondering where civility went to, well you won’t find it at most schools because it’s no longer required. Instead of just preparing children for college, I thought schools had a higher calling and that was to prepare children to be good and productive citizens.

Each of the School Boards quick fixes resulted in even more serious problems. And that’s the problem; they are trying to come up with quick fixes which in some cases are flat out unrealistic as well. They are doing this instead of sitting down and coming up with a cohesive plan that looks at the long term ramifications. Where there are so many students who have been successful despite the school board at the same time the school board has contributed to an ever growing band of students who lack manners and basic skills. Time after time the school board has been filled with good intentions that have gone awry and we all know what is paved with good intentions. I don’t think we as a city can take many more of them.

Let’s Talk about Bell Curves
The bell curve is a normal distribution curve with the most common item being at the center of the curve. The farther you move away from the center typically in units called standard deviations the more and more and more rare whatever is being distributed occurs. That’s a little simple but I think you get the gist. Now let me tell you about the really neat things about bell curves. It’s they can be used to predict things, and in education we can use it to predict which students might need more help or extra resources.

In schools we can put children on an academic bell curve. On the far right we have the students at the top, the ones who do well almost effortlessly. On the left we have the ones where almost no learning seems to occur. Most students fall somewhere in the middle. We could have a similar bell curve for students behavior as well, the best being on the far right, the worse on the far left with again most students showing up somewhere in the center.

Now let’s put parents on the bell curve. Parents on the far right about five percent, are extremely committed to their children, they are very involved, they make all the parent teacher conferences, they help their children with their home work and more than a few relive their childhood by creating elaborate science projects as well. Unfortunately the parents on the far right represent the smallest group of parents.

The vast majorities of parents fall into the middle and are very well meaning. To different degrees they ask about their children’s home work, check their report cards, try and make parent teacher conferences and open houses. They love their kids and want them to do well, but they likewise work long hours and generally have lots of things going on. I am not being critical at all, I say above matter-of-factly. That’s just how it is.

Then there is the far left, some of the parents there might love their children though it might not always seem like it. But regardless of how they feel about their children this group for what evr reason has abdicated their parental responsibilities. Sadly they are parents in name only. They take no interest in their children, they don’t discipline or provide structure, and they often don’t even provide the basic necessities either.

We can use parental involvement as a bit predictor for both children’s academic and social success. It’s not an end all be all but its pretty close. And let’s just say what the bell curve predicts for children whose parents are on the far left, those parents who have abdicated their responsibilities is pretty grim.

Schools only have less than a quarter of the time at most to make a difference. That the rest of their days many spend living in dangerous neighborhoods with families that don’t care. Their influences and role models are the drug dealers or dropouts next door or even worse in their kitchens. Everyday they get an education in apathy and violence, hopelessness and desperation. Every day they get a little bit angrier and care a little bit less. And you can see this at their schools.

Often times when students act up at school it’s just an extension of what is happening at home. They mirror the disrespect and foul language they see, or they were simply never taught discipline or self restraint or learned it at the back of a hand and that’s because their parents never learned it or learned it through a slap or a punch themselves.

When some children don’t make an effort in school it’s often because their parents don’t understand the importance of an education or understand the material themselves. They don’t care or are uninterested. Like the Greeks chained to the cave wall in Plato’s metaphor of the cave these parents only know what the know and often that’s just anger and violence and not the importance of school.

People write, say and scream to the heavens all the time if only we could get these parents more involved the the
fate of their children wouldn’t be sealed, it would be better. That the children could grow up and break the cycle of poverty, violence and apathy that their parents grew up in. And I say to all the people who say. that you are wrong, and I want to scream that to the heavens too!

So many times as a teacher I have called home about misbehaving students and been told they act the same where there and the child was my problem. Soon however if nothing is done they will be all of societies problem and waiting for some of these parents to wake up/step up and do the right thing is like planning to win the lottery. Sure it might happen but we shouldn’t count on it. We as a society can no longer sit back and blame the parents anymore and nor can we wait for them to do the right thing.

We can’t say if only little Johnnie’s parents would have taken an interest he wouldn’t be such a behavior problem or if only little Suzie’s mom would have read to her she would be doing better in school anymore. And blaming some parents for how their children behave is like blaming fire for burning. The fire doesn’t care what it burns, even if it is hopes, dreams and opportunities.

If some parents aren’t going to do it and we know they are not going to do it then we as a society have two choices, do nothing and reap the consequences of a never ending, expanding cycle of poverty, violence and a lack of civility or to do the right thing, to step and reap a whole host of potential rewards. Well I guess there is a third option and that’s to wish upon a star.

I wish there were no parents at the far end of the bell curve and all parents loved and provided for their children and then consequently all students knew how to take care of their responsibilities but at the same time I live in the real world and have experienced firsthand in my classrooms and in the halls of my school, those parents who don’t care either through the words or actions or both. I read about how a young person has tragically altered their life or another’s life everyday in the law and disorder section of the paper or hear about it on the news. What part of the bell curve to you think the vast majority of their parents fell on?

When I look at my sink and see it filled with dirty dishes, I don’t just hope they go away, on the contrary if I want something to happen then I have to do something. I have to step up and make sure they get done. If we want the children of parents who have quit, who have turned out to be everything but parental to grow up and achieve something, to be productive members of society we can’t just sit around and hope it happens. We have to do something more than just blame the parents and wish upon stars.

Students failing in school or students who are misbehaving in schools are the kids that need the extra resources. We might not always like them, we might not think its fair but they are the ones we have to stand up the most for because if not us then who? It has to be us, it has to be society collectively making a stand and saying enough is enough because even though, and I agree with so many it’s not how it is supposed to be, we’re going to do it because we know it’s not going to be their parents who do so.

It’s either we work together to make things better for these children and hopefully break the cycle and reap the rewards or it’s do nothing and see the cycle continue and reap the consequences of more crime, more poverty, less civility and no hope.

What’s it going to be? What do you want to do?

How the airline industry ruined education
Gather around children and let me tell you the story about how the air line industry ruined education.

Not so long ago a faceless man who worked for the state government who has never been in a classroom and didn’t particularly like kids while waiting for a plane read an article on data driven classrooms. It was undoubtedly written by somebody perched high up an ivory tower of academia who also undoubtedly had either never been in a classroom or it was so long they might as well have never been in a classroom.

A light bulb went off over the head of our intrepid public servant and he hatched upon the most dangerous of things for people of his ilk, an idea. When he got back to his office after all the lobbyists and special interests left he then wrote a memo titled “Data Driven Classrooms, what is needed to save education.” Pretty much he googled the original article, cut and pasted it and threw in a few grammatical errors for believability’s sake. When he was done he then went home to his 2.3 children and even though it wasn’t the second Tuesday of the month made love to his wife, after all he had just saved education.

The memo eventually made it to a state senator who also had never been in a classroom and didn’t particularly like kids, because if he did he wouldn’t have been part of the government that cut education by 1.3 billion dollars over the last four years. And in between stuffing his pockets with campaign contributions and planning tax breaks for companies or people who didn’t need them, realized he hadn’t done anything in a while that would give the little people, or what he liked to call “the voters” back home the impression that he cared. So he decided to act upon the memo.

The memo became a bill which the rest of congressmen and senators none who also had never been in a classroom or particularly liked kids, because if they did they wouldn’t have been part of a government that funded education at the lowest level in the country, that’s fiftieth out of fifty, liked what they read. They too felt like they hadn’t showed the people back home much love and that they cared about the fates of them and their families even if they weren’t lobbyists or special interests. Also with elections fast approaching something had to be done to justify their continued employment. Since this was the case the bill easily past and landed on the governor’s desk.

The governor who had never been in a classroom and who didn’t particularly like children himself, who was also part of the administration that only spent a total of 3.1 percent of its resources on education saw the bill and thought, this has a good chance of making people think I care so he signed the bill into law. He knew that he needed the people to think he cared if he wanted to be a United States Senator one day.

The faceless man, all the people in the state legislature and the governor then went to their homes and made love to their wives despite the fact it wasn’t the second Tuesday of the month after all they had saved education. It didn’t matter that they had never been in classrooms and didn’t particularly like children. Now this is where the story really gets going.

A copy of the bill then went to the superintendents in their ivory towers of academia throughout the state, none of whom had been in a classroom for quite some time and in many cases so long it was as if they had never been in one. They passed the bill on to the principals and with a wag of thier fingers commanded make it so. The principals none who have been in a classroom for a while, having left some time ago then told their vice principals and administrators all who had chosen to work in education but not with children to make it so.

They then went out into the classrooms and asked well how can you know if children are learning and how can you know which students need extra help without data notebooks and don’t give me that, you work directly with the children, you have gotten to know them and that combining that with how they do on their assignments tells you how they are doing nonsense. The bill passed by the state legislature says it’s impossible to know that stuff without a data notebook and thus it must be true.

They then said, you must spend untold hours gathering information and putting it in volumes and where I can’t officially tell you to do it on your time but with a wink and a nod you know what I actually mean. If you don’t your evaluations will suffer, your jobs will be in jeopardy and worse of all it will be impossible for learning to occur.

What none of these people understood or if they did, they didn’t care, was that the creation of massive data notebooks wasn’t going to save education. At best the data notebooks would give teachers the same information they would receive if they spent just a few days with the typical student or just reviewed their cumulative file and previous report cards or talked to their former teachers. At worse it was going to interfere with the learning process because it was going to create many more hours of unpaid work for teachers to do. Teachers would now be forced to be away from their friends and families and instead of working on tasks important to the teaching process, like say actually teaching. Now teachers would have to concentrate on creating cumbersome data notebooks instead. Like I said none of those people understood or if they did cared

And that children is how education was ruined by the airline industry and exactly how it happened too.

On my last evaluation I was told, I had a good grasp of the material and where my students were both engaged and learning my lesson plans and data notebooks were in disarray. I didn’t want to tell him what meager things I had, I had made just for him. I should have told him that I was the one in the classroom and since I knew the kids I kept my data notebook in my head. After all that’s where I kept it the previous eight years.

Worse accept all the others
After reading Colin Murphy’s letter about keeping an elected school board I was reminded of an old saying, democracy if the worse form of government, accept for all the rest. To paraphrase, replacing an elected school board with an appointed one is the worse idea around; accept for keeping the current one.

The writer was correct in stating we don’t need to look decades back to find the problems. No we can look at the current graduation rates and the high dropout rates to find plenty. We can also look at fact that 11 of our 19 high schools are either failing or in a turnaround status.

He was right in mentioning several bright spots too. Just look at the nationally recognized magnet schools and all the special programs being created for the top students, including all the advanced placement classes. It’s just too bad the magnet schools have come at the cost of neglecting the needs of the vast majority of children and the percentage of students who pass AP tests is the one percentage that is worse than our graduation rate. I actually do think there are amazing things going on daily, but they have more to do with the interactions between teachers and students than they have to do with the school board.

As far as innovation why don’t they try, stopping social promotions, children don’t suddenly get to high school and forget all they have learned, and bringing back discipline; though we could probably call those common sense measures if we wanted to. I am also not sure how much more teachers can take of the school boards latest innovations, that only peripherally impact learning and add dozens of hours to teachers work schedules, such as uniform boards, word walls and data notebooks.

If a board was appointed I am sure we would all hate to see a collection of politicians on their way up or way down, consultants, lawyers and former teachers none of whom has been in a classroom in over ten years. Oh wait that’s what the current school board consists of. Despite the current boards make up I am not saying they are bad people and I am not saying they don’t care. What I am saying is, they are in over their head and the children of Jacksonville and the city itself are suffering because of it.

I agree with Colin Murphy that replacing the elected school board with a mayor appointed one is a bad idea. Government works best when more people are involved in the process. The thing is, keeping the current school board is a far worse idea that the children and citizens of Jacksonville can no longer afford. Chris Guerrieri, School Teacher

John Delaney
Former Mayor Delany’s editorial about the Charter Review Commission suggesting future mayors be able to appoint school boards was a good start but it didn’t go far enough, it lacked urgency. Despite a few well placed history lessons, I couldn’t but help get the feeling he was trying to step through a politically correct minefield hoping not to offend anyone to much. In the end all he did was tell a few stories, point to the terrible graduation and dropout rates, throw in a few statistics and say “hey let’s consider it.”

I think Mr. Delany might be more passionate about the subject if he knew the intelligent girl with dyscalculia that the school board gave a special diploma to because she couldn’t pass math or the girl they socially promoted to high school after one year of middle school that couldn’t handle it and would skip school daily to do God-knows-what in the woods or the hundreds of other children put in similar predicaments. Mayor Delany and other supporters of the idea might also be a little more zealous if they were forced to teach water downed academics to severely disabled students who will never get them, instead of the life and employability skills they desperately need.

Perhaps if Mr. Delany knew the teachers who were told it didn’t matter what grades they gave to certain children, that they would be socially promoted anyways his opinion might be a bit more forceful. Maybe there would be some urgency to his editorial if he had sat in a geometry or algebra II class at most turn around schools and saw all the students who were lost because they arrived to high school without the skills they needed to succeed. If you can imagine their frustration you might better understand why they act out or drop out.

Maybe if he knew some of the teachers who quit writing referrals because nothing happened to the misbehaving children or the students who came to learn but couldn’t because others had hijacked the learning environment. Maybe if it was his children’s future on the line he might be more insistent that change occur.

How low does teacher’s morale have to fall and how many unpaid hours do they have to be away from their family and how many more children do we have to rob of their future before he gets it and becomes serious about fighting for change, before he is ready to offend the defenders of the broke system of education we have here in Jacksonville.

Perhaps it’s going to take the former mayor meeting with some of the young people who routinely make up the law and disorder section of the newspaper to find out when they lost hope or him meeting with their victims and the school board is at least partly responsible for many of them, before he realizes change definitely needs to occur instead of suggesting that the citizens of Jacksonville look into it. Mr. Delany if you and the other citizens of Jacksonville did those things then you all might realize it’s not a matter of should we make a change but when can we make the change.

Mr. Delany I have a question, are you going to be a politician and be politically correct about the issue should we should have an appointed a school board or not or be a leader and demand that we cast aside that what’s not working. If you choose to be a leader then you have to realize this isn’t a political science question, it’s a do we care about the future of the children of Jacksonville question.

Hubris, 2
I was very impressed with the Editorial, Education: Demand Better. It really brought to light a lot of the problems with the Duval County School Board though I believe it omitted one. That’s Hubris.

Hubris means extreme haughtiness or arrogance and it often indicates a loss of touch with reality and overestimating one's own competence or capabilities, especially for people in positions of power. And to use an old joke if you were to look up hubris in the dictionary you would find a picture of the Duval County School Board next to the definition.

They are so caught up with the success stories of the academic magnet schools that they think they can duplicate those results at every school and the sad simple fact that they don’t seem to get is they can’t. However the line in the editorial “Duval school officials say the graduation rate is not as dismal as statistics portray it. The reason: Duval has higher graduation requirements than the state and most other school districts” proves that they think they can. Why have dedicated academic magnets if the requirements are the same everywhere? It’s because that’s the only success the DCSB has going but what they don’t get, is that as things are now the magnet schools are hurting the rest of the district.

The DCSB current plan seems to be to get a quick fix by hamstringing principal’s power to suspend students and by having more children take advanced placement tests. The reason is because suspensions and children taking A.P. Tests helps with the districts overall grade. It doesn’t seem to matter to them that by doing this it helps destroy discipline and children aren’t passing the tests.

Then they point to their self created new strategic plan as an example of how they plan to change things around. The thing is they both came up with and decide how well they are doing in meeting the goals. That’s like me letting the children in my classes come up with their tests and then grade them too.

Finally when Superintendent Ed Pratt-Dannals says, based on his research, it's not the system, it's the leaders. What he is doing is blaming the teachers, after all he and the school board don’t seem to be standing up and taking any responsibility. Teachers however didn’t initiate a system of social promotions, gut discipline or create the constantly revolving door of policies, procedures and programs that the Duval County school district has become. The superintendant and the school board did.

They are so filled with hubris that despite all the shortcomings listed in the editorial they attempt to time and time again justify their performance. I would have more hope for change if they said, we haven’t been doing a very good job and we need all of the citizens of Jacksonville to come together to help us turn things around. They however won’t do that, their hubris prevents them from seeing that they are in over their head and that the whole district is sinking because of it. Friends and citizens of Jacksonville it’s well past time we realized it. After all it’s only the future of Jacksonville and the future of our children that are at stake.

The Florida Legislature is seeking to roll back the class size amendment and they are pointing to the economy as a reason to do so. This is them being disingenuous at best and insulting at worse but regardless begs the question, do our representatives in Tallahassee think we, the citizens of Florida will believe whatever they tell us?

Now it’s true the present economy is rough and revenues are down, but let’s think back to 2002. 911 had happened the year before and Florida along with the rest of the country was still in a full blown panic. People weren’t travelling and people weren’t spending money either. Instead we were glued to our television sets listening to stories about anthrax, terror alerts and weapons of mass destruction. The economy was not exactly setting records then and hadn’t been for some time. Does anybody remember the March-November 2001 recession? Furthermore the start of the smoke and mirror housing boom was still two years away. Despite the weak economy the citizens of Florida, along with almost the full backing of the legislature at the time, voted for the class size amendment.

The legislature wanting to roll back the amendment is just another example of how short sighted they are. The economic down turn didn’t happen overnight but they act like it caught them off guard. The reason I believe they are so concerned is because now they will have to close loop holes and tax breaks for certain businesses which are campaign contributors. I know it’s not because they care about the children of Florida because if that was the case they wouldn’t have cut so much from education over the years.

I am not sure if the general public is aware of the following but they are all directly controlled by the state legislature. Florida is currently ranked 50th out of 50 states in per capita funding for K-12 public education and 39th in per pupil funding. In 2006, we spent $7,400 per pupil today we spend $6,400 per pupil (The national average is over $10,000.) and Florida ranks 16th in the nation in spending on corrections. I mention the last part because I believe if we spent more on education we could spend less on prisons and all society would benefit.

Yes, we are having tough economic times but it’s wrong to point to 2002 and say, the economy was so much better back then. Also when the residents of Florida passed the amendment they knew it was going to cost money and voted to pass it anyway. In effect they told the legislature to do their job and find the money to pay for it. It’s time they did their job. If you agree please contact them and let them know.

The state of education has lots of problems and I think we should leave no stone unturned as we look for solutions, no stone but the school voucher stone that is. A school voucher or an education voucher is a certificate issued by the government which parents can use to pay for the education of their children at a school of their choice, rather than the public school to which they are assigned. On the surface this might seem like a good idea but as things stand now this is one stone we should continue to leave face down.

Some people think that the reason Florida has defunded schools so much is because they want the rank and file citizen to shout for school vouchers. The theory being, if education gets so bad then families with children will have nowhere else to turn to. The same conspiracy theorists point to the f-cat, which students at private schools don’t have to take, as another tool used by the powers-that-be to accomplish the same task. I am not prepared to go that far but I can easily find reasons not to buy into the school voucher hype.

The biggest reason supporters of school vouchers give for having them is competition. They say it over and over again how competition will improve education. However that is dishonest because public schools and private schools are not on a level playing field and comparing the two would be like comparing apples and oranges, sure they are both fruit, have seeds and are round, but their differences are just as numerous. How can we have fair competition unless the two sets of schools have the same sets of problems and resources?

Private schools many of which have a lot more money to work with than public schools can also take whoever they want and in a lot of ways are as much like private clubs as they are like schools. Public schools on the other hand are obligated to take any child who shows up at their door. Furthermore it is a lot easier for private schools to remove children for academic or behavior reasons, where public schools don’t have those same options.

Next vouchers are actually welfare for the rich. Say we offered a voucher the equivalent of the amount the state pays to educate each child, give or take seven thousand dollars. That would still preclude a lot of children from attending many private schools as their tuitions are much higher. At the same time it would supplement the families who already attend private schools, those families who can already afford it, to the tune of seven grand.

Furthermore a private education with all its bells and whistles does not guarantee a quality education. Friends we can fix public education if we stop social promotions, provide extra resources to those students that need them and bring discipline back to the classroom. There are rather than siphoning off some of what already little money we use to fund education are the solutions we should be turning to.

I don’t see how you could reconcile above to make things work with school vouchers and until someone comes along that can, vouchers should remain one of those ideas that on paper sounds good but because of its impracticality doesn't get used

Changing mindsets
I am a white male who teaches at a turnaround where the population is approximately 60-40 black. I teach a varying exceptionality science class which sees my numbers jump to 80-20 black if not more. And despite being a white male after working in the school system so long predominantly in inner city schools I feel a lot of the black communities same frustrations and where I think it admirable that many members of the black community have banded together to develop solutions, I think they have missed the bigger issue.

The first thing they have to do, what I believe we all have to do is change our mindset. You see the Duval County School Board is an equal opportunity offender, it doesn’t matter if you are black or white, Asian or Indian, or male or female, unless you are one of their chosen few their only interest, whether it be by hook (accident) or crook (by design) is to keep many children from doing well.

The community shouldn’t be looking for solutions to improve how male black students do; the community should be looking into ways to improve how all students do. And where I know it sounds counterintuitive, I believe the best thing we can do for a whole bunch of them is fail them.

An article in the Times Union reported that only 23 of black males graduated in the 07-08 school year. They rightfully reported that the figure was abysmal. However they then compared it the 42 percent rate that white males are graduating at but friends that’s terrible too. It’s not just blacks that should be outraged its whites and everybody else as well.

Both of these groups arrive at high school without the basic skills to be successful because they have been passed without them. The DCSB has an unwritten policy which says pass any marginal student and let the next grade figure it out. However instead of catching up they fall farther and farther behind. Unfortunately for them when they reach high school there is nowhere else for them to go.

Teachers are under such tremendous pressure to pass students that some have told me that the C is the new F. I have heard of administrators walking around on report card day having teachers change grades or telling teachers it didn’t matter what grades teachers gave certain kids that they were going to promote them anyways. Numerous teachers at my school have been told they are giving out to many failing grades, though n alternative other than passing them wasn’t offered. If there is a benefit to the children being pushed along I have not seen it.

The county right now should stop promoting children who don’t have the skills to be successful at the next level and fail them, but that should just be the first step. If a student fails he should automatically be eligible for more services. Tudors and mentors and when necessary social workers should be made available. Often what happens at school is a reflection of what is happening at home.

Then if a student fails twice how about we send them to a special school where they can get extra remediation where they can stay until they are caught up. We have several schools dedicated to the top students the children who arguably need the least amount of help but where are our specialized programs for the students who need intensive academic help? The answer is we don’t have them.

Friends it’s not a black/white issue in regards to one group being left behind. It’s a black white issue in regards to both groups being left behind. It’s an issue of whether we want to do the right thing for all our kids regardless of race or not. I hope we do and I think it’s time we did, even if at first it seems a bit counterintuitive.

Mr. Littelpage with all due respect, when you talk about giving the school board five more years to get it right, you have gotten it wrong, and of course the schoolboard and superintendant are against the idea of having a mayor appoint the school board but that’s because the only thing I believe they are genuinely concerned with and interested in, is keeping their jobs and if you want proof of this look at their the strategic plan, the reason you tout for giving them five more years.

Who came up with their strategic plan? Well they did of course and who is in charge of deciding if they meet their goals or not? Well not surprisingly at all, it’s them again. That’s the equivalent of me letting my students come up with their own test and then letting them grade it too.

If you want proof of how they are manipulating their strategic plan, read the recent article in the Times Union about how suspensions are way down (one of their goals). What it doesn’t mention is that principal’s evaluations are tied to how many kids they suspend, and the fact that teachers all over the county have all but given up on hoping their administrators will instill discipline. Yes suspensions and referrals are way down but to be honest what does that matter if the learning environment is damaged in the process.

Another goal is more children taking advanced placement tests. Well sure enough the numbers are way up; unfortunately the percentage of children passing them is way down. Sadly to the school board that doesn’t matter as long as they can check another thing off their self created list.

To be honest I have a lot of trepidation about a mayor appointing a school board because so often in the political world people are appointed not because of what they know or what they can do but because of whom they know. Though at the same time I have to think any half competent mayor would pick experts in education, stakeholders and teachers working in the trenches who know what works and doesn’t work, and wouldn’t that be better than the school board we have now, a collection of lawyers, politicians either on the way up or their way down and not one person who has been in a classroom in over a decade.

Can we take the risk of five more years of low graduation rates and high dropout rates? Are we going to continue to allow this group to keep up their agenda of social promotions and gutting discipline. Can the city take more of them pumping extra resources through academic magnet schools that benefit only the top children while most children languish in underperforming schools? Is that honestly what we want five more years of Mr. Littelpage?

How about you propose another option and that’s the school board agrees to accept whatever the citizens of Jacksonville decide even if they don’t like it. That seems fair, a lot fairer than having another sixty thousand children graduate over the next five years under their leadership

John Peyton
Reading Mayor Peyton’s editorial I found many of his goals laudable but in the end, just like the state and the school board don’t, he doesn’t seem to get it. If we want to see meaningful improvement in education we don’t need to reinvent the wheel with data notebooks and word walls and nor should we rely on supplemental programs like the Jacksonville Early Literacy Partnership to fix our problems. Instead we need to get back to the basics.

It's simple; if a student doesn’t have the knowledge to make it to the next grade then they shouldn’t be promoted. Students don’t suddenly lose the skills they need to be successful in high school; on the contrary they arrive without them. And please don’t blame middle school and elementary school teachers for this either because the school board puts them in an unattainable position. The district has an unspoken policy that says pass even the most marginal student and let the next grade sort it out.

The thing is instead of magically catching up they usually fall farther behind.

Instead of blaming teachers when kids fail, the district should realize that different children learn at different speeds and some require extra help and then provide accordingly. Additional opportunities for learning such as the JELP and more after school and summer school programs are a good start but where are the magnet schools designed for the marginal student? The answer is we don’t have them because the district is enamored with the advanced academic magnets for the top students, arguably the students who need the extra resources the least.

If the district were to, and I know it sounds counterintuitive, allow more students to fail and then provide them the extra resources they needed to catch up, then education would improve. However that has to be done in tandem with bringing back discipline, something else the district has gutted, back into schools. Students have to be in an environment where learning is possible and teachers have to be able to teach. Until we do those two “back to the basics” things, then everything else is just throwing different colored paints against a wall and hoping something sticks, and according to the original article, the reading initiative gains didn’t stick long, lasting only a couple grades before they were eroded away. The real question is why don’t the powers that be understand this?

Real World
Where I agree completely with Kevin Johns assertion that more parenting is called for, the sad truth is he like many of the people here in Jacksonville don’t understand the reality of the situation. Waiting for some parents to take an interest in their children is like waiting for the Clearance House sweepstakes prize van. Sure it would be nice if it happened but we as a society shouldn’t count on it.

Is it right that society has to pay extra for some children? No. Is this how things should be? No. Should parents be allowed to abdicate their responsibilities? No. Is it absolutely essential that society step up and take care of these children? Yes. Not only is it simply the right thing to do but society cannot afford to have a segment of the population without skills. If you think spending extra on these children drags society down now, just think about how much extra police, prisons, welfare and having an inept workforce will cost us later.

We are well past thinking about how things should be. Instead we need real world solutions like early literacy programs and they cost money. The good news is experts report for every one dollar we spend on prevention we reap seven to ten dollars in benefits, we just have to find the will to spend those first few dollars. In the end I would rather spend what resources we have on children whose parents are less than idea, than save it for the extra prisons and additional welfare, what we will need later if we don’t.

Principlas Perogative
I found the article on evaluating Principals very interesting. In my years of teaching, I have had great principals, terrible principals and principals in between. They are like the quarterback of a football team and like quarterbacks I think they tend to get both too much credit when things go well and too much blame when they don’t.

Principals do however have a lot of power and perhaps too much. I didn’t start writing about the ills in the school system till I was over half way through my third year and that’s partly because up to that point I could have been fired for any reason, regardless of my ability as a teacher.

One of the biggest powers that principals have is site based management which means that once the money gets to the school the principal can channel funds into whatever areas they want to and in this f-cat era it’s been my experience that often special education kids pay the price for that. At my current school we have classes with trainable mentally handicapped children, who in many cases bring in substantially more money than regular education kids, with 17 plus students, bigger than many regular education classes including one history class that for a semester had only one student.

More proof of this is that for years the dedicated magnet Paxon School for advanced studies had a severely emotionally disturbed unit. In theory the SED kids were supposed to be mainstreamed into regular classes once they reached a certain level but in actuality those kids would never survive in the advanced classes. When I asked about the incongruence of these severely disabled children being put with the advanced kids, I was told they never mixed and the reason the unit was there was because the extra money it brought in could be used to pay for the advanced programs.

Site based management also means policies can change from school to school which means policies change from principal to principal. For example some schools require IDs and others don’t and the same goes for clear back packs as opposed to any type of backpack. You would think some policies would be universal and not on a school by school basis.

One thing I would like to see change in evaluating principals is how suspensions affect their reviews. This gives principals the incentive not to suspend students which takes away a valuable tool that can be used when disciplining them. And since discipline is such a huge problem many principals need all the tools they can get.

Finally I think being a principal is a hard job that not everybody is suited for it and I don’t think there should any shame in trying and not succeeding. The school board, rather than moving these principals around, refusing to admit their mistakes, should instead work to find jobs suitable positions for them in non-managerial roles
Bussiness Groups
Wednesday’s editorial on education started with “Two leading Florida business groups recently looked hard at Florida's education system - and the view isn't pretty.” My question is, after years of trying to finance education on the cheap, and having a system that socially promotes children without the skills they need and at the same time guts discipline, how is this is news?

They were right on in saying we need a coordinated effort to improve things though I don’t think they prioritized correctly. We should start with not promoting students who don’t have the skills to be successful at the next grade. Kids don’t magically catch up when promoted, instead they fall farther behind and furthermore students don’t just show up at high school having forgotten all they were supposed to have learned. Where is the magnet school for kids that need extra help and specialized instruction? The answer is it doesn’t exist. For this to work we have to stop blaming teachers if a child somehow fails and then allow them to be retained. This just acknowledges something we all already know and that’s some children just need extra time and help to be successful. Let’s give it to them.

Then let’s bring discipline back to the schools. As I was turning a referral in the other day another teacher laughed at me and said, “Good luck getting that processed.” They laughed because discipline has become such a big joke, that many teachers don’t write referrals anymore, they have given up. If they do, rarely anything meaningful happens to the student and often it’s the teacher who gets in trouble for having not stopped class to call the disruptive child’s parents or some other nonsense.

Later I asked the same teacher how many referrals they had written and they said they had stopped because the administration was keeping track and if she wrote too many it would affect her evaluation. Furthermore, right in my employee handbook it says discipline (and attendance) is not to play a role in determining a student’s grade. In the end we might not be able to turn all our children into mathematicians, engineers and scientists (the only professions the state seems to want) but we might be able to turn them into good and productive citizens, something that will definitely not happen if children don’t receive consequences for their negative behavior.

There are a few other things we can do to. We can bring back the teaching of skills and trades and make the arts available to more than just a few. Electricians, plumbers, musicians and car mechanics are professions that will not be out-sourced to India. And I personally would like to see the powers-that-be stop blaming teachers for the problems in education. Like all professions there are some teachers who are better than others, but as a group teachers today are better trained, more knowledgeable and more dedicated than ever. Also we as a group didn’t decide to socially promote children, get rid of discipline, eliminate trade and skills programs and nor do we try and reinvent the wheel with new programs every few years or so. We just roll up our sleeves, show up and teach.

Ideas to improve education
Local education is in the news a lot recently and rightfully so. First of all what is more important than preparing our children for the future and second we have problems, lot of them and they don’t seem to be getting any better. The following are a few common sense ways to improve education.

1. Make teachers exempt from income taxes. Looking for a way to attract the best and retain the brightest, well start with the bottom line. This helps teachers greatly by boosting their income, and saves school districts money by eliminating payroll taxes. I also think the police, fire fighters and the military should be exempt as well, people in these professions have dedicated their lives to helping society, I happen to think society should give some back.

2. Make electricity free for schools. I have never understood why schools pay for electricity. Isn’t this a cost that local communities should bare? Schools are not businesses nor are they homes; they are a special necessary function of society and should be treated as such.

3. Have curriculums that make sense. Not everybody is going to go to college and it is high time we stopped trying to fit so many square peg students into round holes, we need to be training students to be plumbers, electricians, carpenters, mechanics and so many other professions as well, those jobs will never be outsourced to India. Why should a student who wants to drive trucks be forced to take algebra II?

If we are determined to have dedicated academic magnet schools something I think hurts the district, why not make just make algebra II a requirement in those programs and optional in the neighborhood schools for children interested in a future in math and engineering. I have two college degrees and the highest math I took in high school was general math II as a junior.

4. A one cent sales tax to help fund education and other children’s issues. This isn’t throwing more money at education, something some conservatives believe we already do it’s so we can throw the bare minimum to get the job done at it. For decades the state of Florida has been trying to get education on the cheap preferring to finance tax cuts and tax breaks for business, we have to say enough is enough and that our children are important too. Studies indicate that for every dollar we spend on prevention, down the line we save seven-ten dollars. We can revisit the issue every few years to see if it is still needed and I believe down the line we won’t but we desperately need it now.

Furthermore it’s not pay for it now or pay for it later because we are already paying for it now. We are doing so with more police and prisons, more crime on our streets and with a lack of opportunity for many of the citizens of our city.

5. Bring discipline back to the classroom. Too many families have abdicated their responsibilities to teach their children to be responsible citizens, if they are not going to learn it at home they have to learn it at school because if not there then where. The alternative is to be okay with the loss of civility and manners, and to be okay with more children committing violent crimes. When children are being unruly and receive no consequences for their actions they prevent teachers from teaching and other students from learning and worse they learn that behavior is acceptable. Furthermore if a teacher spends just ten percent of their time disciplining then all the children in their class loose 18 days of instruction. Finally tying principal’s evaluations to their suspension rates doesn’t help things it makes things worse.

6. Sex education. I wished abstinence worked, but expecting some children not to have sex is like expecting all politicians to have our best interest in heart. It’s not going to happen. Again I also wish this was an issue we could leave to the parents but if they aren’t going to do it, it must be done in the schools because if not there then where.

7. Standardized tests. I understand schools have to have an assessment tool, but tests like the f-cat have become part of the problem. Schools and teachers are under such stress they often end up just teaching the test and to think otherwise is ignorant. Plus the test is given such huge weight in determining success or failure, it almost literally doesn’t matter what other things the schools, teachers and students are accomplishing. Why don’t the powers that be give teachers a list of the topics they want covered at the beginning of a nine weeks and then test them over it at the end. Did you know the fifty question science f-cat covers three years worth of learning?

8. Then let teachers teach. I wouldn’t care if teachers used the Vulcan mind meld to get the information across as long as they did so and neither should the school board.

9. Effective leadership: I am wary of people who want to work for the school district but don’t want to work directly with children. I think the most effective leaders would be those who have the ability but not necessarily the desire to do so.

10. Certificated employees must teach. There is such a disconnect between the district staff and the rank and file teacher, it’s like the people at the various district offices and one prudential drive don’t have any idea what is going on. If they were required to get back into the classroom they would have a better idea of what worked and what didn’t and so much of what they cram down teacher’s throats doesn’t. Furthermore hopefully they would stop changing policies and procedures at the drop of the hat and be more sympathetic to the overwhelming amount of work that teachers have to do and then hopefully insist children get consequences for their actions

11. School board members required to substitute. School board members should be required to substitute teach one day a week in the district they represent. Like the district employees they seem to be disconnected from what is going on. If they are disrespect on a daily basis they might begin to think discipline is important. If they see children without basic skills struggle they may stop social promotions. If they are forced to teach complex subjects to disabled children who will never understand them, they may recognize the folly of it.

If you don’t agree with all or any of my ideas fair enough though I hope you understand we must have a dialogue on how to improve education, and if you doubt what I say go to certain parts of town and/or walk down the halls of certain schools. Look at the law and disorder section of the local paper, hardly a day goes by where you don’t read about one young person’s life who was ruined often in the process of running somebody else’s.

Solutions are not “teachers get paid too much and have too much free time.” Thinking that is ignorant of how things are. Another solution is not “break the strangle hold of the teachers union.” As far as I can tell the only thing Duval Teachers United is interested in is how much teachers get paid and how much time off they get and I happen to wish they were more involved. Getting parents involved is a nice idea too but for many of them it’s would be like waiting for the clearance house sweepstakes grand prize van to show up, sure it would be nice if it happened but I don’t think we should count on it.

Charter Review
At a recent meeting of the Jacksonville Charter Review Commission, the group charged with a once a decade audit of Jacksonville’s governmental affairs, School board member Tommy Hazouri was heard boasting that 85% of the residents of Jacksonville were against the mayor appointing the school board.

Not coincidently the rest of the school board and superintendant are on the record for being against the idea as well. Me? You can go ahead and put me with the fifteen percent in favor of the mayor appointing the school board, alongside former mayor John Delaney and undoubtedly after exhaustive research on the matter at least some of the members of the Charter Commission.

Don’t get me wrong, I have a fair amount of trepidation about the current mayor or any mayor for that matter appointing a school board. So often political appointees are put in their positions because of who they know, not what they know or more importantly what’s best for the public. I just have to cross my fingers and hope that any future mayor would do the right thing and instead of appointing their friends or supporters (not unlike the school board often does when choosing principals) and instead appoint a group of experts on education. Any appointed board should also include current area teachers, the people working in the trenches who have the best feel for what works and what doesn’t work and then other city stakeholders as well. If this is what were to happen I can’t help but think the state of education would improve and improve dramatically. I sincerely believe the current school board is one of the impediments to a quality and equitable education for all of Jacksonville’s students

Furthermore I don't think the school board shouldn’t be made up of the winners of popularity contests where typically less than thirty percent of eligible voters actually vote. Especially since those who are elected don’t seem to have any more obvious qualifications than the attendees at a run of the mill PTA meeting. Furthermore if they have the knowledge or experience to run a school district they have strangely omitted it from their official school board bios.

Did you know we have more former lawyers and consultants on our school board than former teachers and of the few teachers we do have, none have taught in over ten years. Would you trust a lawyer to take care of your medical needs, and who would you prefer to see, a doctor who is currently practicing or one who hasn’t practiced in more than a decade? Mr. Hazouri himself notes in his bio that one of his qualifications is that both his wife and son are teachers. I guess that means if I had two relatives who were heart doctors I could perform just about any procedure.

Continuing, former mayor Hazouri may have been a little more nervous than he let on when he made that boast as the paper recently reported that he may have crossed the line when he took complaints about the commission to two of the commission member’s bosses. Perhaps he knows that even if people are against a mayoral appointed school board they are not exactly thrilled with the job that he and the school board are doing, and why should we.

As a district our graduation rate is about a shameful sixty-five percent and our dropout rate is just as terrible. The dedicated academic magnet schools have created a two tiered system of education that ties children’s fates to the schools that they go too. The district has neglected the teaching of trades, skills and the arts and forced all children onto a college track whether they are capable or want to or not. Discipline is gutted and social promotions are the rule, after all children don’t get to high school and suddenly not know the basics and please don’t get me started about how we treat many of our disabled students, it’s worse than a Shakespearian tragedy and the school boards not so subtle distain for teachers.

Would an appointed school board do worse? Could it?

If the charter commission does what most people expect it to do and recommend the mayor be able to appoint the school board the next step would be to put the measure on the ballot and let the people of Jacksonville decide if they like the idea or not. I would like to see the school board pledge to agree to do whatever the citizens of Jacksonville decide even if was something they didn’t like.

One of the reasons for voting against a mayoral appointed school board should not be because the school board threatens to drag the matter through the courts wasting precious resources as they do so. If the school board is interested in anything but self preservation they should make the aforementioned pledge.

I didn’t lose this young man to a gun or some other type of violence, nor did I lose him to an accident. He didn’t enter the juvenile justice system though throughout the years I have lost more than a few there. I also didn’t lose him to the street either, he hasn’t dropped out, in fact I see him in the halls fairly regularly. No instead I lost him to a system that is out of control and makes knee-jerk decisions that don’t solve problems but instead exacerbates them, it’s called the school system.

The last time I wrote this young man up it was for several reasons, pretty much the same reasons I wrote him up the other seven times. He cursed me out, he told me I wasn’t allowed to speak to him and he informed me he would do what he wanted to when he wanted to. He also impeded me from teaching the class and prevented my other children from learning. I wish I could chalk this up to him having a bad day but it seems like all his days are bad.

When the administrator told me his punishment would be to switch classes you might think I would have jumped for joy. It would mean this daily headache would no longer be mine but I didn’t. Instead I looked him in the eye and told him I thought that would be a big mistake. First of all I am not about passing my problems on to other teachers and second and most importantly I was concerned with the message this would send the child, the lesson he would learn from moving. I told my administrator that if we move him because of his behavior we have just taught this young man that if he acts badly he will get what he wants and that being disrespectful, disruptive and defiant is the way to go. I went on and on about why I thought this was a bad plan but I may as well have been talking to a wall.

After the conversation I did a self assessment to see if maybe I was part of the problem, to see if I somehow created this adversarial relationship. In my mind every time he came back to class after a referral I hit a reset button and started things over. Likewise in my mind I treated him the same as all of my other students. I like to think I am strict with my rules but fair and furthermore I also try to model courtesy and respect with all my kids. I am not going to lie, this sometimes becomes a challenge especially when students verbally vomit on me, which this particular student did often.

I then contacted all of his other teachers to see how he was doing in their classes, if he was doing well in those classes but poorly in my class, it would give me a lot to think about. I found out that in some classes he was doing better than in mine but in not in one was he doing well. I wasn’t surprised to hear that in a few of his classes he doing as poor as he was in mine. One teacher wrote back, the first day we had it out and he hasn’t been back since. The only real difference I could see was that unlike most of his teachers I was the only one writing him on referrals consistently.

I don’t blame the other teachers for not writing him up as often as me for his behavior. Many times when we write students up the child gets no real consequences for his actions and then comes back angrier. The sum total for the eight referrals I have written on this young man, which includes numerous class two offenses, is less than three days of in school suspension and a pass to another class.

Furthermore sometime teachers are called to task on why they write referrals; it’s as if writing on the referral he cursed me out, refused to do his work and stopped other children from learning, isn’t enough.

Have you called the family is usually the first question the administration asks. They don’t seem to get it’s not always practical to stop class and call the family; they don’t always realize we have other students who we are also responsible for. I have called this students family several times and they reported his behavior was the same at home; however that was before they stopped taking my calls. I guess like my administration, they no longer wanted to hear it

So I went back to my administrator armed with the fact his behavior was bad across the board and that he was not being successful anywhere, but sadly he was more interested in the configuration of my data notebook and how my board was set up.

This story is not typical in fact it’s very common; teachers all over my school and across the district report the same problem. Discipline is not enforced and children don’t receive consequences for their actions, and remember for a consequence to be affective it must be meaningful. I happen to think some of the punishments we give actually turn out to be rewards for kids. If a student doesn’t want to go to a certain class and they know the most they will get is to sit in ISSP for the period if they curse the teacher out then why wouldn’t they.

But a better question is why the powers-that-be don’t get that when they ignore discipline they are making problems worse. They are stopping teachers from teaching, many students from learning and allowing the maladaptive children to enter life with a false sense of how things are. How long is my guy going to last in the workforce when he curses his boss out or tells him to leave him alone? How long would you last?

Every day in schools across the county we teach reading, writing, arithmetic, science, history and a whole host of other subjects, but we are also teaching some students that if you act up, if you are disruptive and disrespectful you can get what you want and many kids are learning these lessons and learning them well.

Maybe I shouldn’t care if loose this student or not. When this kid is absent I often breathe a sigh of relief, and I think the other kids do too. When he is not here there is less yelling and cursing; they are able to learn. Furthermore when he is here it’s not like he is really learning anything anyways. He rarely does his work and the only participation he does in discussions is to tell me to leave him the “expletive delete” alone. Because of this I really don’t have many aspirations of him learning much in my class, though there was one lesson I did want him to learn, perhaps an even more valuable one that he would take into life with him and that’s negative actions have negative consequences. Instead we have taught him negative actions allow him to get what he wants.

I know the problems he is having aren’t just with me or with school. Furthermore there is no doubt in my mind he has had a tough life, a bad hand dealt to him. I just don’t understand why the school system, the entity that should be there for him when his family has abdicated their responsibilities, has let him down by ignoring his current problems. This just ensures his future problems will be worse. I lost a student and despite the fact his goals in life seemed to be to make my life miserable and prevent his classmates from learning, it made me both angry and sad. I am sad for his future and angry that I am part of the process that has practically guaranteed that it will be bleak.

Smoke and Mirrors
It is all about smoke and mirrors with the Duval County School Board as they attempt to hoodwink the public into thinking they are doing a good job. Suspensions are down is their headline but what’s left out of the story is the fact principals evaluations are affected by how many children they suspend. They say graduation rates are up and dropout rates are down while hoping the public over looks that our numbers are still some of the worse around. Look at the success of our nationally recognized academic magnet schools they shout while at the same time several high schools are in danger of being taken over by the state. They have gotten rid of the words Autism and mentally handicapped because of their negative connotations and instead replaced them with the less accurate but more neutral words, sensory impaired and intellectually disabled. Don’t those terms sound nicer?

The school board is like the Wizard behind the curtain telling Dorothy everything is fine, it’s only when Dorothy pulls the curtain back does she finally get a glimpse about how things really are. Friends it’s time you pulled the curtain back and got a glimpse of how things really are too. Now the DCSB wants to be able to tell people we don’t just have qualified teachers, we have highly qualified teachers and its here where I and hundreds of other teachers come into play and sadly and needlessly it’s going to cost a few people their jobs.

I teach a varying exceptionality science class in a high school and last spring I was approached and told I would need to get certified in elementary education k-6 and middle school integrated to keep my job. I asked if they wanted me to get certified in high school science as well, seeing as that was what I was actually teaching, to which the district person replied, “Nah don’t worry about it.” To say I was flabbergasted would be an understatement.

Sensing the insanity of the situation and armed with the experience and knowledge that if you don’t like
something wait for somebody else at the district to read a memorandum and interpret it differently I did nothing. Fast forward six months and I am now told that that instead of getting those two additional certifications, I am already certified in ESE k-12, all I have to take is the middle school science test, which where the right subject is the wrong grade.

I often tell my kid’s its direction not perfection that I am looking for and even though this change in district policy is an example of that I still found myself a little less than satisfied. Furthermore I was told I wouldn’t have to add this test to my certificate, all I had to do was pass the test and that would be good enough. Instead of explaining the incongruities of what they said now and what they said then and arguing about how illogical the whole thing was, I just asked if I could have that in writing. It dawned on me that compared to what was happening to hundreds of other teachers I was actually getting off pretty light.

Though as I walked away I thought to myself, I would have been furious if I taken the two tests they originally told me to and added them to my endorsement, then found out they switched things up on me; after all the tests aren’t easy and they cost two hundred dollars each. Now it’s true they did say they would reimburse me if I passed them but they also said I would have to pay the upfront costs and loose the money if I failed.

Why the sudden change you ask, after all this is my ninth year as a teacher and some of the teachers affected have been teaching much longer. Well it has to with the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001 which mandates that all teachers assigned to teach core academic subject area(s) must meet U.S. Department of Education “Highly Qualified” requirements. That’s right the act of 2001 requires this, way to go keeping current Duval.

I actually kid my friends at one Prudential Drive, who have created a two tiered system of education, made discipline secondary, practically eliminated trades and skills, put all students on a college track whether they have the desire or ability or not and with a wink and a nod encouraged social promotions sending unprepared students on to the next level while simultaneously blaming teachers and parents for the districts problems, some, that’s I kid them some. I should actually applaud the school board, for ignoring the statute for as long as they did. After all so many of these provisions are written by people who have never been in a classroom and have very little to do with education. If only they would have treated word walls, universal board configurations, data notebooks and the FCAT in a similar fashion.

Why this is happening? Well it’s because some bureaucrat somewhere said let’s add an extra requirement to what teachers have to do and lets purposely make it vague and give little direction, this way it will at appear as if we are doing something and then somebody will vote for me. Then the school board who has never met an edict they didn’t like regardless of how it affects teachers and students went along with it. If things seem made up as they go along or created on the fly with little rhyme or reason to you, then you are not the only one; welcome to the state of education.

Most of the teachers affected by the county finally choosing to enforce part of the NCLB act at my school are special education teachers though a few of the reading teachers were told their current credentials were lacking as well. Some of my colleagues were told they have to take multiple tests. One of my colleagues who is teaching trainable mentally handicapped, scratch that intellectually impaired children how to write their names, what the big hand on the clock does and how to add one digit numbers was told they needed to get k-12 social studies. I also have a friend who was offered a position teaching pre-k autistic children but she couldn’t take it because she hasn’t passed the math portion of the c.l.a.s.t. It doesn’t matter that she has a master’s degree, lots of experience and a documented math learning disability. Both are examples of mandatory requirements that have nothing to do with what would be going on in the classroom.

Now I am not against teachers having requirements nor am I against them having to upgrade their credentials from time to time. I am just against arbitrarily imposed standards that have little to do with education and I am against bureaucrats who have never been in the classroom imposing these requirements. If I am going to be a science teacher in high school I should be required to get a certificate in high school science nothing else.

However if they want me to get a certificate in special education because of the kids I teach I get that too, but if that’s the case, then the teachers who have special education students in their classes and that’s most teachers regardless of grade or subject throughout the county, should have to get certified in special education as well. That wouldn’t help with the ridiculousness of the situation but it would at least make things fair.

So what’s going to happen if to me or the hundreds of other teachers if we don’t take and pass the tests? Well if that’s the case on June 30th we will be let go, fired. And it won’t matter how much experience we have, what our evaluations are or if our kids are learning and progressing, all that matters to the district is that they have this one little line filled in. Again, welcome to education, it’s time we pulled back the curtain before it’s too late.

Grade Recovery
I really feel like a negative guy sometimes when it comes to local education, which I find kind of sad because in truth I see and know of so many truly amazing things going on. For the most part however I believe the real successes in the Duval County school system can be found in the individual classrooms and are the interactions that occur between students and teachers. This is because even in the supposed district wide success stories that the DCSB touts, like in the article, Jacksonville Students boost grades and attitude, they can’t help but expose flaws in the system. I think they just hope the public is either ignorant or isn’t paying attention.

The article was mostly about Grade Recovery which through a computer program called Compass Odyssey allows students to make up failed grades. Here is where the problem starts. Many teachers don’t think there is a whole lot or reliability and validity in the programs, that students don’t get the same level of knowledge or learning with the programs than they would in a classroom. Also at one time grade recovery was just for kids who worked and tried but just didn’t get it or needed more time to. Now however the requirements for getting into grade recover are diminished, kids that don’t come or are behavior problems can make up their classes through grade recovery after school or at home at their leisure on their personal computers. I happen to think there should be consequences like failing or having to attend summer school for those behaviors.

Furthermore there is an issue with accountability with grade recovery as students can take the on-line courses at home. At school teachers can be sure who is doing the work, at home it could be anybody. Also do you know why the student in the piece only passed with a C? Well it’s because that’s the highest grade he could make. Grade recovery is pretty much passing with a C or continuing to fail.

I would also be interested in knowing of the 320 students who routinely go to these after school tutoring sessions how many of them are failing classes. It’s often the motivated/passing student who takes advantage of these programs, not the students who need them the most.

Continuing, if this student or any student in general could pass a nine week class in 3 weeks, why don’t they just take 12 weeks and pass the entire class, why don’t all kids in all subjects? The answer is grade recovery is not the same as going to class. Check and see how the student mentioned does on the f-cat compared to other children who earned at least a C by attending class daily, I hope he does great but I bet you will see a notable difference in scores. Though in the end I am glad this student decided to show up after school. Students taking an interest in and responsibility for how they do plays a huge role in whether children will be successful or not, teachers can only do so much with students who don’t care.

The fact that this student woke up and cared, not the grade recovery program is the true success in the story. However if we wanted to see more success stories it wouldn’t be that difficult.

I would like to see us as a school system be more proactive than just hoping kids show up for after school tutoring. Why can’t it be mandatory for kids who have failed an academic class, who’s to say kids get to leave at three especially if they are failing, and if we couldn’t make it mandatory for after school, what about having resource pullout classes during school, or making learning strategies for kids that fail academic classes mandatory? We could say to these kids, want an elective or to stay in an elective, pass your academics first, and if we said to kids fail a class and you will have to stay till four, for nine weeks, not just here or there or when they wanted too, I would again wager we would have fewer failures.

Also as of yet, here at my school there is no f-cat boot camp or similar program described in the piece for the fifty or so seniors that haven’t passed the f-cat yet, and if they don’t pass the f-cat they won’t get diplomas, instead they will receive certificates of completion, pieces of paper that aren’t worth the ink it takes to print them. I can’t speak to what is happening at other schools. I happen to think a program like that should have started day one for those students and would be more beneficial to the community as a whole than the international baccalaureate program we are starting for our most gifted kids next year (another example how the most gifted children get extra resources) though in a perfect world both would be best.

What’s more, at my school even though it wasn’t mentioned we have had academic tutoring and grade recovery in the library after school for quite some time but one of the problems here is that it is mostly staffed by administrators (teachers as far as I know were not given a chance to apply for it) and it starts at 2, which means for the last 30 minutes the admins and tutors are getting paid double, their regular wage and their tutoring wage. I am actually okay with that but it’s not fair that teachers who just tutor in their rooms don’t get paid and give up they are even giving up their planning time to do so.

At the end of school, and at most area high schools, teachers are supposed to have 45 minutes of duty free planning, where students are supposed to leave, in theory they are supposed to come back for tutoring and extracurricular activities after the teachers planning period end. Since many students don’t leave, many teachers instead are using that time to tutor but unlike a chosen few are, they are not getting paid for it.

When the Times Union prints these articles that paint rosy pictures of what’s happening in the school district they give the public a false sense of security which is an inaccurate picture of things, on the contrary the public should be concerned, very concerned. With some examination, flaws in the system are easily found, now the powers that be have to decide if they want to fix them or if they are going to hope the citizens of Jacksonville continue to act like they are the subjects of an emperor with new clothes, I hope like the people inthe fable we wake up and stop pretending that things are all right.

I get it, you hate taxes
When the Times Union published my editorial calling for a one cent sales tax to be used for children’s issues, I knew in some circles that part would be quite unpopular. Somewhere along the line the word tax became a very dirty word; this despite the fact that taxes allows us to do collectively what we can’t do individually. If it weren’t for taxes, meat wouldn’t get inspected, roads wouldn’t get paved, our military wouldn’t exist and there would be no public education, along with thousands of other activities that would not take place without taxes.

But I get it; nobody wants to pay more taxes. This despite the fact Florida has one of the lowest tax bases in the union. Though I am not sure what good that does us if our state crumbles around us because we decided not to invest in education preferring to try and get it on the cheap. We don’t want to pay more taxes but strangely we are okay with our legislature giving many businesses tax breaks, homestead exemptions on second and third houses and exempting luxury boxes at sporting events.

A one cent sales tax also wouldn’t be throwing money at the problem, as some have suggested and that’s because Florida has never thrown money at the problem. We have either been at the bottom or near the bottom in education spending for a decade now. Though and I think coincidently enough what we have been spending on prisons is near the top. Wouldn’t it be better if that was flipped?

Plus and what I am not sure everybody gets, is that we are already paying for our lack of investment in children and education. We are paying if by having more police and more prisons; by having more crime on streets and by losing out on opportunities. Businesses look at schools and a work force when deciding to stay or relocate. It’s not an issue of pay for it now or pay for it later, it’s we’re going to pay a lot more later if we don’t do something now.

Furthermore I wouldn’t want this money to go to our school board. I don’t think they do a very good job with the money they have now. I saw a statistic which said forty-five percent of all DCSB employees weren’t teachers. I understand the need for a support staff, but I also went to a training put on by seven district people, one to do the training, six others to sit around and look bored. Furthermore I believe their love affair with a few magnet schools have created a two tiered system of education which has exacerbated some of the districts problems.

Nor would I want the money to go to the state. Hoping they do the right thing where education is concerned is like waiting for the Clearance House Sweepstakes awards van to show up at my house; sure it might happen, but I and you shouldn’t hold our breath or count on it.

There are a few common sense things we can do to improve education, though the longer I work in education I have found common sense to be relatively uncommon. Things, like bringing discipline back to schools and not overwhelming teachers with superfluous tasks could be done. But until one of the powers that be reads another article waiting for a flight and then decides to switch things up yet again, we appear to be stuck. But even if those two things were to happen we would still have numerous other issues to contend with.

The money from a one cent sales tax could go to juvenile justice programs to make sure some children just made one bad choice not a life time of them. It could go too structured before and after school, weekend and summer programs, for those children whose parents have abdicated their responsibilities. It could be used to create skills and trade programs, because despite the fact the DCSB thinks it, not every student is going to, nor wants to go to college. Besides jobs like plumber, electrician and seamstress will never be outsourced to India.

If you don’t think there is a problem drive through certain neighborhoods, or walk down the halls of certain schools. Talk to a teacher about the kids in their classes. Look at our abysmal graduation rates and high dropout rates. Or turn to the law and disorder section of the paper, hardly a day goes by where it doesn’t report some young person’s life was ruined or they ruined somebody elses.

Friends without children this applies to you as well. Wouldn’t one penny be worth not being afraid to go into certain parts of town? Wouldn’t one penny be worth top flight businesses moving to Jacksonville? Wouldn’t one penny be worth making sure your business had a capable work force? Wouldn’t one penny be worth it, if crime and insurance rates went down and safety and civility went up? I think it would be.

All it would take is for the citizens of Jacksonville to stand up and say to the state, the city council and the school board, we get it you either don’t care about our children or you don’t know what you are doing, but enough is enough, we are going to do whatever it takes to ensure all our children have an opportunity at a bright future.

But if you are still not convinced and fair enough, could somebody please give me a reasonable alternative that doesn’t cost money and shouting teachers are overpaid and get to much time off is not a reasonable alternative, it’s an ignorant statement. If there is something, anything that we can do that is free and people are willing to do, I want to know about it. Sadly I am not smart enough to think of anything.

I really do get it. We don’t want to pay any more money, heck I am already pay check to paycheck, the thing is, ignoring the problem and hoping it goes away hasn’t been working so well and only ensures things will get worse, and to be honest that’s the only solution I have seen offered.

Race to the Top
A very important deadline in Florida education is coming up quick. A deadline that could potentially see hundreds of millions of dollars added to the states education coffers and it is a deadline I am not sure we shouldn’t just let pass.

The United States Department of Education has offered the states over 4.3 billion in grants through their Race to the Top program, of which Florida could receive up to 700 million dollars. In order to receive the money the state has had to come up with a plan.

Part of the plan would require school districts and teachers unions to come up with a merit pay plans based at least 50 percent on how each teacher’s students do on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test or other exams as a condition for receiving grant money. And there friends is blaring red flag number one. The f-cat in teaching circles is almost universally reviled. Most believe it is an experiment that instead of enhancing education has set it back here in Florida and that it needs to be done away with. Despite this, we are supposed to make it the centerpiece of a merit pay plan.

Some teachers don’t teach f-cat subjects, history is not covered and neither are electives. Furthermore some special education students do and some don’t take the F-CAT. Those that do often know it doesn’t matter how they do and Christmas tree accordingly. To make up for these things the county has created map tests, to be given at the beginning of the year and at the end, but for many teachers and subjects they have been a disaster.

My Map tests showed up on a Tuesday during the eighth week of school as I was prepping my kids for their end of the nine weeks test. I was told they had to be in by that Friday. When I asked if I could have an extension because I was in the middle of teaching, they told me it was my problem and that I could do them or not, but if I didn’t it would be my money affected. Last year I didn’t give the second round of M.A.P. tests because on my evaluation I was flagged not eligible for bonus pay. This despite the fact I received it the year before. The difference; I had been, against my will, assigned to teach a new subject and despite the fact my kids were learning, my professional dress and my lack of extracurricular accomplishments were found wanting.

My story is far from typical. Hundreds of MAP tests for electives went ungraded last year as the person responsible for doing so retired and nobody else at one Prudential Drive thought to grade them and many students don’t take the MAP tests seriously and quite frankly why should they? The tests don’t affect their grade or pay.

There is so much subjectivity when doing teacher evaluations, including if the evaluator likes or dislikes the teacher or not. In the last four years since I have returned to teaching there have been teachers I have thought it was a miscarriage both ways whether they got bonus pay or not. Heck when I received it, I felt guilty as several teachers I think are phenomenal did not.

Furthermore where I think teachers, especially here in Florida are underpaid should merit pay really be the top priority for this money? The sad simple truth the state and the powers that be don’t seem to get, is we need to provide more services to students who are struggling and I am not talking about when they are at the schools between the morning and afternoon bells. If we want these kids to be successful we are going to have to go into the community and the neighborhoods and get the people that live there involved; we are going to have to provide more after school and summer school opportunities and for many of them we need to create curriculums that teach them a trade or a skill, that will prepare them for life rather than just prepare them for college.

Next I have to say I have no confidence that the state will know what to do with the money or spend it wisely. Their latest plan to create uniform word walls, complicated lesson plans, data driven classrooms, universal board configurations and to rob teachers of creativity and initiative is an abject failure. The states idea of a good plan is for someone to read an article while waiting for a plane, then tell the teachers in the state they have to do it, while simultaneously hiring minions to cajole teachers into doing it.

Furthermore won’t this money just give the state more opportunities to steal from education? The lottery was supposed to augment education instead it replaced money siphoned away to give tax breaks to fat cats and friends of the government. The state has long shirked its responsibilities to children and then blamed teachers for what happens. Is there some way this money could be given to an independent authority, the state has long since proved it doesn’t care about children and doesn’t know what it is doing.

700 million dollars is a lot of money but if it is wasted or used ineffectively them what good is it. I don’t think people are anti-taxes, they are against their money being wasted. I also think they are against people who don’t know what they are doing being in charge of it. I would rather see the state pass on it than waste it. This is a deadline the people of Florida should stand up and say we can’t afford to meet. How is the state going to spin things if nothing improves, by blaming teachers, their old stand by, I imagine.

Some suggestions: make teachers exempt from federal income taxes (and police, firemen, paramedics and the military too), you want the best of the best to flock into those professions try that. The state should give a list of things it wants taught in each class at the beginning of a nine weeks and then test them at the end of the nine weeks to see if it happened. In between it should get out of teachers way. I don’t care if a teacher uses a Vulcan mind meld or some other technique to get the information out there as long as they do and neither should the state. Invest in skill and trade education, not all children are going to, or want to go to college, instead of just preparing them for that how about we prepare them for life as well. Finally instead of hoping the federal governement bails them out again, the state should go down to wall-greens and pick up a big bottle of common sense, which apparently and sadly isn’t as common as you might think or hope.

Magnet Schools
Magnet school education expands to the neighborhood school. That’s great, now students all over the county will be able to take the classes that up to now were just offered at the dedicated magnet schools. We definitely need more programs that help with student success in the county.

Any day now the district will probably announce the special programs for the 12th grader who isn’t going to graduate with a diploma because he can’t pass the f-cat. The children that can’t read or write on grade level. The capable special education student who’s course of study will lead to a special diploma, which will prevent them from going to college, joining the military or getting most jobs and the angry kid whose parents have abdicated their responsibilities. It must be just a matter of time before the district announces a commitment to introduce more trade and skill programs for the kids who are more interested in learning about those things. And if you beleive all that I also have a bridge and Brooklyn I am willing to sell you cheap.

Sadly the announcement is typical; the county seems only interested in helping the select few they deem worthy and amazingly that's often the kids who need the least amount of help. Just so you know I am for advanced academic programs, I am just for helping kids who really need the help more.

The most underserved group of students in our county happens to be its biggest. It’s the group of regular kids who get up every day and just go to school, some have an idea what they are going to do and some don’t. When are we going to start taking care of them?

Appointed verses Elected
I agree with former Mayor John Delany’s opinion that an appointed school board would be better for our cities children. Which school board would you rather see? A board with a politician on his way down, several former teachers who left the profession to become lawyers and a board where nobody has any recent, relative experience working with children in a modern classroom, who won popularity contests? That’s the makeup of our current school board. Or would you rather see a school board consisting of current teachers who better understand the problems that both modern teachers and students face, along with parents and other experts in education. The school board I imagine any half competent mayor would appoint.

The former mayor suggested we try it for ten years to see if it works to which board chair woman Brenda Priestly Jackson replied, “the district’s 123,000 students, including her own, should not be the subjects of an experiment.” Ms. Priestly what about the magnet school experiment that has created a two tiered system of education. What about the out of school suspension centers which have turned into a two million dollar fiasco. What about pushing hundreds of kids who had no business taking A.P. tests to take them? What about the new high school schedule configuration that nobody else uses? At a meeting I was in the other day, the districts own director of turnaround schools expressed dismay as to why we had gone to it. I could go on for a while.

In Duval county policies and procedures change as frequently as the weather. The school board has been experimenting with the children for years and years trying to figure things out and it’s time the citizens of Jacksonville recognized this and said enough is enough.

To be honest in the end I don’t know if a mayoral appointed school board would do any better, but it’s hard for me to imagine they could do any worse.

Suspended Belief
“School suspensions drop dramatically” was the headline of the December 8th issue of the Florida Times Union. Good news right! Reading this the people of Jacksonville might think things are “dramatically better” here in Duval County sadly however that is far from accurate. All it is another case of smoke and mirrors propagated by the Duval County School Board. This time however they had accomplices as the Times Union and education writer Topher Sanders refused to bring up any issues of substance.

Such as how are suspensions down 71 percent but referrals down only 30? In the past were administrators just suspending students at the drop of a hat? How have teachers written over 19,000 referrals but less than fifteen percent have resulted in suspensions, are teachers writing students up for the most trivial of offences? The article said thirteen hundred children have been referred to the suspension centers, but it doesn’t say how many have actually attended? Even if they all attended which is extremely doubtful wouldn’t that mean the suspension centers are operating at less than five percent of their capacity? Did we waste two million dollars in their creation? If these students aren’t technically suspended and they aren’t in schools what are they? Why hasn’t the school board just said, refer all suspended children to the suspension centers. This by their computing process would eliminate all suspensions. A 71% drop is great but a 100% drop is even better.

Would you like to know some reasons why referrals are down here in Duval County? Well make sure your tables are in their upright position and you have strapped yourself in, because you are about to go on a wild ride.

The biggest reason there are fewer suspensions is because some teachers have stopped writing children up. Quite frankly nothing happens too many of them when they do so. Students rarely receive appropriate consequences for their behavior and even freshmen psychology students will tell you that often leads to worse behavior. Furthermore teachers are afraid to write up children. If they write to many referrals then their classroom management skills are questioned and that can affect their evaluations. So instead many teachers just endure little Johnny or little Suzie’s disruptive, disrespectful and defiant behavior. Sadly however they aren’t the only ones that have to do so; it’s the other children in the class who have come to learn who have to endure it too.

Suspensions are also happening less because suspending kids affect a schools grade. The school board would rather keep misbehaving children in school without real consequences for their behavior, again despite the fact this practically ensures the behavior will repeat and worsen. And it doesn’t matter to them that this also robs parents of the opportunity to be parental and steals instruction time from children to whom school is important. Meeting their self imposed benchmark and looking better in the eyes of the state, not teachers and students are apparently their chief concern.

Referrals are being ignored. Boxes of unprocessed referrals were recently found at my school and where I can’t say with a certainty this happens elsewhere I wouldn’t be surprised, but I do know that more than half the referrals I write I never get back.

Finally suspensions are happening less because the school board told principals to suspend less and they told their deans to suspend less, regardless of the consequences.

Who wins when these things happen? It’s not the teacher that can’t teach, the children that can’t learn or the children who don’t receive consequences for their actions? It’s the school board who can point to deceptive statistics pat themselves on the back and say; look we’re doing a good job.

Continuing, the principal quoted in the piece said, “If a teacher is talking to a child rather than stopping instruction to write them up, then you get better results and you’re building relationships.”

The thing is which she must have forgotten is that teachers are already talking to the unruly students and probably a lot more than to the students who care about school. Please have a seat, please stop talking when I am talking, please pay attention, please stop bothering your neighbor, please stop screaming at me, and please stop cursing at me usually follows, if you want to talk I am here for you and what can I do to help.

Furthermore all the teachers I know only write up kids when they are forced to, when a student’s behavior is so badly or their defiance is so great that teachers have no other choice. Also while the teacher is spending so much time on the unruly student, who do you think is being neglected? I’ll tell you it’s the students who want to be there that are.

If keeping little Johnny in my class means, Linda, Michael, Bob and Allen can’t learn, then little Johnny has to go.

I had a parent teacher conference a few weeks back where the parent was very angry with me accusing me of singling out her child. He had been written up nine times, seven by me, one by a sub and one by another teacher. This child, a second year freshmen also had six F’s and one D on his report card the first nine weeks and at the conference I brought e-mails about this student from all his other teachers, saying he didn’t do any work and didn’t behave in their classes either. I reasoned to the mother, who cares most about this student, the person who just accepts their behavior or the person who says enough is enough, you need to improve. At the mother’s insistence he is now in another class and his grades and behavior are as bad as ever.

Offering no consequences for behavior doesn’t seem to be working. If you want proof sit in on a tenth grade geometry class or ninth grade reading class at your average turn around school. Or look in the streets and jails of our city. How about we try the opposite and give some consequences including suspensions for bad behavior, it seemed to work for our parents and our grandparents.

When the Times Union prints these misleading puff pieces on behalf of the school board it does their readers, the citizens of Jacksonville and most importantly the children of Jacksonville a disservice. The Times Union should write an article about how the school board and the school system here in Jacksonville is in trouble, deep trouble and we need the help of the whole community to turn it around because if we don’t things are going to get worse much worse. That story would at least be accurate.

Leila Mousa and her can of Paint
The Times Union did a piece on Leila Mousa the executive director of Region 2, one of Florida’s five education regions. She is a long time figure in Duval County public school education and it's her new job to monitor the progress of schools, point out what’s not working well and offer recommendations for improvements that will help students learn, and despite all that I don’t know why they picked her to do a piece on instead of one the six thousand or so more deserving area teaches.

I met Ms. Mousa a few weeks ago. I had been displaced from my portable to the library; there were several other classes there that had, had a similar fate. My kids took a test that day which I allotted the whole period to do. Usually after tests are over we talk about them for a bit and then I give them free time. With about ten minutes left which is the same time I would have put on Ed White TV had I been in my room, she, the principal and a couple others walked through.

She sees my kids talking and stops to quiz me on what they are doing. Every time I said something she interrupted me and then in an amazing flash of insight, she was able to sum me up in two minutes, this despite having never met me and without listening to anything I said. She then said to the principal, get this teacher some help. I wasn't nearly as offended as some of my students, one who asked if I was in trouble and another who said, I am going to get her and my coworkers, a few of who used different pejoratives when describing Ms. Mousa, were. By the way my help that I don’t need has never arrived.

News of my encounter spread and at lunch a colleague told me that a former principal of his told him that she was the worse boss he ever had, even back when he was a kid cutting lawns. My buddy is a pretty good guy so he may have just been trying to make me feel better.

The thing is, in the article I saw no mention of her time when she was in charge of the A.P. curriculum, when the amount of kids who took the test skyrocketed (a positive thing when grading school districts) but the amount of kids passing plummeted (an inconsequential thing when grading school districts). Or her cozy relationship with our former superintendent and college board, the maker of the A.P. tests.

The article did say Ms. Mousa stressed the need for “quality teachers, detailed lesson plans that focus on all students learning, focusing on reading and writing in all classes, even electives, and using data to help focus instruction.” I happen to think that for the most part we already have quality teachers and I continue to get frustrated when higher ups imply we don’t, but I do agree we do need to focus more on reading and writing. As for the other things, I think she has missed the boat.

If we want things to improve here in the county, why don't we stop promoting kids who don't have the skills they need. Children don't get to high school and not be able to read and write or do math by magic. Then we need to bring back discipline to the classroom, provide a safety net for our most challenged students , switch up the curriculum some and finally we need to stop turning to people who are not in the classroom and haven’t been in the classroom for years for answers. Until we do those things, everything else is just throwing paint against a wall and hoping some of it sticks. Ms. Mousa with her detailed lesson plans, data driven classrooms, and her subtle distain for teachers is one of the biggest cans of paint we have.

How many district people does it take to screw in a lightbulb

How many district people does it take to screw in a light bulb, sorry, make that hold a workshop If you went to a workshop on IEP compliance last week it took seven, one to give the presentation, a 105 page power point, and six to drink coffee, file their nails, look bored and e-mail principals to tell them which teachers were late. When my colleagues returned, to a person they told me how useless it was and that the district people had no idea what it was like to be in the classroom.

As I was listening to their tales of not being able to ask questions, being talked down to and being treated like they were idiots, I had an epiphany. That’s a flash of insight that might just save education and at the same time make things better for teachers and students alike. My solution is simple too, it’s everybody teaches. Everybody in a certificated position should have to teach at least one class.

Any argument saying that non-teachers already have too much to do just doesn’t fly, especially when so many teachers are already working fifty hour weeks, giving up both their free and family time and doing so for salaries considerably less than district people.

My bet is that most district people and administrators wouldn’t want to do it, that they have come to a point in their careers where they feel they are above teaching and because of this students and teachers will continue to pay the price for it. I sincerely wish they would prove me wrong.

One of the biggest problems we have here in the district is that there are so many people who don’t teach and who only have a peripheral relationship with students. Instead of teaching, this layer of bureaucracy’s whole point of being seems to be just to make life more difficult for teachers, though they use the euphemism “providing support”.

They have no idea what it takes to make lesson plans, data notebooks or write IEP’s along with the million or so other things teachers are expected to do, while at the same time being expected to teach. They come into your children’s schools and say to their teachers, schedule this meeting, write that report or fill out those forms as if we have nothing else to do and as if those things are easy to do.
Well school district in case you didn’t know it, in case you didn’t have a clue, we do have something else to do and it’s called teaching. And it shouldn’t be up to teachers “to figure it out” which is what one of the district people told one of my fellow teachers to do when asked where we were supposed to find the time to do all the new tasks they wanted us to do.

Unrealistic expectations of teachers are only one of the problems that people who don’t work in classrooms have.

While at a meeting to discuss the status of our school a teacher asked, “I am not sure what the administrators do, I am pretty sure they do something but I don’t know what it is. They get here after me, they leave before me, I take home piles of work and they take home their purses, I honestly don’t know what they do.” This did not come from me, this came from another teacher who in our four years working together I had never hear say more than two words before.

Another teacher added,” if you don’t like what one coach says to you, ask another coach, eventually you will get an answer you like.” I can tell you for a fact it’s the same way with district support people all over the county. I have been in meetings and actually seen district people argue over a point.

If you are not in a classroom, if you haven’t experienced the disrespect from children, been overwhelmed by the endless tasks, and haven’t had your hands tied preventing you from doing what you know is best for your children, then you can’t really know how it is. You can have a feeling, you can have empathy, you can have an idea but you can’t know and the district definitely doesn’t know, if they did I imagine things would be different.

At the schools deans would no longer send disrespectful defiant and disruptive children back to classes without meaningful consequences if they had to experience those behaviors firsthand. Principals would no longer require complicated lesson plans or data notebooks volumes long if they had to write and create them themselves. Coaches would know what works and what doesn’t work in a classroom because they would be there trying it out instead of just giving suggestions off of power points.

District people would no longer change the rules or procedures half way through a term if it affected them. They would have the map tests ready at the beginning of the year because they know it would affect their bonus pay. They wouldn’t require word walls if they had to maintain them, they wouldn’t require universal board configurations if they had to create them, they would also be quicker to answer questions if they had there’s ignored. Also district people wouldn’t come into classrooms unannounced without introducing themselves and walk around with frowns on their faces interrupting the teaching process if they knew it could happen to them. Then most importantly they would be better equipped to figure out what worked if they were forced like teachers are now to do what doesn’t.

District people would report to a school most likely at the beginning of the work day to teach a class. Then they would be responsible for everything from lessons to parent teacher conferences to everything in between. Furthermore they should have to go to failing or turn around schools, so they can see what most teachers have to go through. Coaches and administrators already assigned to schools could stagger what classes they teach throughout the day, that way there would always be somebody available.

Think of all the other benefits too. Class sizes at the struggling schools would be smaller. Supposed experts in the field could now put their knowledge directly into the classrooms. District people could meet students and parents and local coaches and administrators could build solidarity with the staff.

If something doesn’t change teachers may eventually “figure it out.” That’s figure out that they are being taken advantage of, figure out that they aren’t appreciated and figure out that enough is enough.

Industrial Strength
I teach my classes in an old portable at the back of my school. It’s a bit smelly or so I am told by my students. It’s funny what you will get used to after a couple years. Though I guess it’s equally funny what you won’t. Sometimes at the end of the day after my students filter out, I cup my face with my hands and fight back a tear. Things seem to be getting worse and daily fewer and fewer things make sense. When I started teaching I wanted to change the world, after a couple years I decided if I could just make a little difference that would be good enough but now many days I am just interested in surviving and going home and I am not alone.

Mr. Smith (not his real name) teaches regular education math at the same school I work at, geometry, algebra and such. He has been a teacher for six years all of it here, which means this is our forth year working together. Even though we teach different subjects (I teach special ed. science) we have a fair amount in common. We’re both Italians from Ohio who relocated to Jacksonville, neither of us are big fans of the cold and two years ago we started a staff fantasy football league. We also have a daily routine which consists of me complimenting his shirts and him telling me the (I am sure made up) history behind them. Pretty silly I know but sometimes it’s the silly things that you have to grab onto to get you through the day.

I visited his classroom a while back and found him standing near his white board (a modern day chalk board) with a little tub in his hand. What’s that, I asked. He turned to me and sighed a little bit. Its board cleaner, make that industrial strength board cleaner, he then sighed again and added, I might finally be able to use my board.

I was a bit flabbergasted, as I said Mr. Smith is a math teacher and I always figured that math teachers had to use their boards more than any other type of teacher and I had no idea that for the whole year he had been unable to use his. I would be lost without mine, well the half of mine that works anyways.

He later told me that he let the administration (the same administration that kicked me out of my sixteen year old portable for three days so they could retile it), know before pre-planning had even begun (some four months ago) that his board was useless and that he had reminded them several times since. How have you been teaching math without it, I asked. He shrugged his shoulders and pointed at his over head projector and a small 3x3 portable white board. It’s been a struggle he said and then he added, like most things this year have been a struggle.

I could tell he needed to talk which was okay with me because I sincerely believe that teachers have to be there for each other, because if we’re not, then who will be. The district and even the administration are too far removed from the classroom; so far removed they really don’t seem to have a clue as to what is going. The public doesn’t seem to want to get a clue and all the union seems to only care about is teachers’ hours and pay.

If the district cared they wouldn’t give teacher more work than they can do. If the administration cared they wouldn’t send unruly children back to class without consequences for their behavior. If the public cared they would be in the streets clamoring for change. And if the union cared they would realize there are so many other things that affect teaching than just hours and pay. I however do care about my friend and his plight which I figured was most likely my plight as well so I asked him, what’s wrong.

He went on a rant, saying there was too much work and a lot of it that didn’t have anything to do with teaching. He felt the scrutiny on teachers was too great, he didn’t know how to make children care about themselves or school or how to get parents involved and those things reflected on him. Then the district with all their formatives and tests wasn’t giving him enough time to teach the material, his students, most of who didn’t arrive to him with the basic skills needed, had to be caught up before new material could be covered. He went on also mentioning a lack of support from the administration, his classes being too big and being filled with too unruly kids that made learning nearly impossible for those students who wanted to learn; he mentioned all those things and more.

He then looked at me and with a look of defeat on his face that I had never seen from him before and said, “Chris, the worse thing of all is I am afraid I am starting not to care anymore.” When he said that I knew I was right, our plights are the same.

I thought about saying, why should you. Like most teachers he comes to school every day and fights a losing battle. Kids uninterested in school as well as being defiant, disruptive and disrespectful are common throughout the city. The state and district are piling on teachers like never before, which means many teachers routinely work ten hour days just so they don’t fall to far behind and that’s on things that only has a peripheral relationship to learning. Mr. Smith doesn’t need a data notebook the size of several encyclopedia volumes to be a better teacher, what he needs are white boards that work.

I thought about saying why should you care when the state, the district, the administration, the parents and the union, entities with the power to make things better didn’t or at the very least didn’t appear to care.

Like I said, I thought about saying why should you care, along with those thing s above and I even thought about adding why should any of us, maybe it’s time all teachers stopped carrying and made making it through the day our only priority but I didn’t, instead I said, hey at least you got the board cleaner, I paused and added, the industrial strength board cleaner.

Jail is Cool
My 19 year old sophomore returned to class today after a five week absence. I know for a good part of the time he was gone he had been in jail. I know this because he was arrested here at school. It happened when after a fight between him and another student was broke up he punched a security guard. Even though this is his first appearance in my class since then, I also know he came one other day, a day where he didn’t make it through his first period class before he had to be forcibly removed.

Yet there he was sitting in my class, with a cat eating grin on his face.

These were far from his first run-ins of the year. I myself had written him up several times for being defiant and disrespectful and I know other teachers have too. Also a few months back he went to a conduct review hearing for threatening to murder one of the deans. As an ESE student he is entitled to a conduct review to see if his behavior is a manifestation of his disability. What’s this young man’s disability, you ask; well he has a learning disability, he needs extra time to process information. How that manifests to him threatening and hitting school board employees, fighting with other children (and at nineteen he’s an adult, it’s the people he is fighting with that are children), being disrespectful and disruptive is beyond me but somehow the school district reasons it does as they stamped his and routinely stamp most conduct review visits “manifestation of disability”.

A master of the system he promised to enter the work program, but three weeks later and with no sign of employment in sight we realized that this had been a ruse and that we had been duped by him once again. Then a little less than two months ago I sat in a meeting where a district psychiatrist after interviewing him and reviewing his records said she was going to recommend he be sent to an alternative school so he could no longer “terrorize students… and teachers.” An interesting choice of words I thought at the time, but as long as he went away I was okay with it, yet there he was back in my class.

As I said, I had written him up a few times. After one time particularly nasty outburst in my room, he told me if I wrote him up I would be the one who got in trouble not him, and in a way he was right. If teachers write to many referrals, then their classroom management and skills as a teacher are questioned. Furthermore a lot of teachers don’t see the point of writing kids up just to see them returned to class with no real consequences for their actions. Often when they come back they are worse, not contrite as they should be but angry for the momentary time away from their friends. So teachers just endure or kick them out when they can’t endure anymore, but they aren’t the only ones that are forced to put up with their behavior, the other students in the class, your sons and daughters have to endure it as well.

Speaking of enduring, I had to endure my 19 year old sophomore talk about how jail was not so bad to his classmates. You got three squares a day and if you had money in your commissary you could get a packet of noodles for fifteen cents and a Little Debbie for a quarter, he told them. He continued, I said when they arrested me that I’m not scared of jail, and it was actually kind of fun sometimes, talking to the old timers. When a kid says jail is kind of fun, what do teachers have left, what can we do? The answer is not much.

I sometimes write about magnet schools and how I think they are unfair but in a way I am a hypocrite. You see if I had any high school aged children I would want them to go to a magnet school and it’s not because the teachers there are better, it’s because they are safer as your modern high school can be a dangerous place. Furthermore I wouldn’t want my children around kids who didn’t care about themselves or school and who thought that it was okay to disrupt class and be disrespectful to teachers. A colleague told me what he said to his class once. He said, “If you don’t care about school or you want to come to my class and just skate through you can, I don’t ask a whole lot, the class isn’t that tough and like most things in your life learning is up to you but if that’s what you want to do can you at least pretend to be decent human beings, while you do it.” I would want my children to be around decent human beings.

That’s not to say there are not a lot of good kids at my school; in fact I would say most of them are. Some of the kids in my classes who are just marginally, at best, interested in school are also some of my favorites. Sadly however there is a significant number of kids who don’t care, who only come to school because they are forced to or to see what trouble they can find or to take care of business. And what’s worse, is the fact a lot of these kids, like my 19 year old sophomore, who when he wants to be can be very charming, are role models. I don’t know when it happened but at some point looking up to teachers became not cool and looking up to kids who are disruptive and disrespectful to teachers did. It was so disheartening seeing several of my students hanging on my nineteen year old sophomores every word, especially his words, “jail is kind of fun.”

How do we turn these kids around? I would first suggest changing the schedule, ninety minutes in high school is way too long. When is the last time you got a 14 year old to focus that long on anything? Next have curriculums kids are interested in, bring back trades and skills, plus having more electives that can have an accompanying academic component couldn’t hurt either. Then we have to bring back discipline, when a child acts out they must get a meaningful consequence for their actions, if not all they have learned is it doesn’t matter what they do and that invariably means that their behavior will worsen.

So what’s going to happen to my nineteen year old sophomore? I am told he goes back for another conduct review later this month. Until then he is allowed to come to school, where I am sure he will let his classmates know, “jail is kind of fun.”

When you are right you are right
I think Principal Wallon is right, parental involvement is probably the biggest factor when determining a child’s success and too many parents are abdicating their responsibility. The thing is, if we as a society and as a school system know this, isn’t it time we stepped up and took responsibility. Sitting back and going “it’s too bad, if only that kid’s mom would have encouraged him to read he might have been something, or if only his dad would have taught him right from wrong he wouldn’t be in so much trouble.” hasn’t been working so well. If the parents aren’t going to do it and we aren’t going to do it, then who is? I don’t know, but I will tell you who will pay for it, that’s all of us

As far as his discipline argument he is right again, magnet schools and neighborhood schools handle discipline the same way, and sadly it does take a really big incident often several of them to have an unruly child removed. It’s the frequency and severity of discipline problems that separate magnet schools and neighborhood schools and those are two things you can’t in all good conscious compare.

Playing Politics
Our superintendent Ed Pratt-Dannals had a letter to the editor in the Sunday, November 29th, 2009 Times Union, his subject was the Charter Revision Commissions proposal that the mayor appoint the school board. Not unexpectedly the school board and Superintendent Pratt-Dannals were unanimously against the idea.

First I thought letter to the editor? This is the superintendent; doesn’t he at least deserve an op-ed piece? Has his credibility and relevancy sunk that low? Isn’t his opinion of this subject good enough for an article somewhere in the Metro section? Or perhaps it’s that the powers that be at the Times Union have finally opened their eyes to what is going on at One Prudential Drive and realized what happens there affects what happens in our streets and our neighborhoods.

His letter read like the smartest boy in tenth grade bullshitting an essay. He meandered through point after point that didn’t seem to have a lot to do with making the plight of teachers and students better. His points were marginal at best that is until the end when he wrote “To create highly performing urban school districts that educate all children to high levels, what is needed is a strong board-superintendent team, with a board that provides leadership for reform through vision, goals, policy and astute politics.” And I thought, if only we had that and you sir, have just torpedoed your own argument.

Blindly following the states mandates of learning schedules and curriculums and forcing teachers to work ten hour days creating word walls, data notebooks, uniform boards and a dozen other things is not vision.

Forcing teachers to accept a new high school schedule that provides less instruction and supervision, making children who will never use or need algebra II to take it and bringing on an era of fear and apprehension among teachers that their jobs are constantly in jeopardy is not reform.

By not insisting the JEA pays their fair share to schools or the city council put a measure on the ballot for a one-cent tax to go to children’s issues and by not sticking up to the state when they continuously refuse to take care of their obligations is not astute politics.

With a wink and nod telling teachers at one level to promote borderline students and at another level blaming teachers when students don’t succeed or saying it’s the fault of parents when students underachieve or misbehave is not leadership.

That however was not the worse of it.

He also wrote some reasons that the school board should be retained: “Improving results in academic performance, graduation rates, career and college readiness, improved safety and discipline over the last few years show that our locally elected School Board is able to execute its strategic plan, and make tough decisions in conditions of depleted resources.”

It’s amazing to me that the school board takes credit for the slightly improved abysmal graduation rates which I believe is right around 65% one of the worse in the state. Nero built a hell of a palace that he was proud of after he burned Rome to the ground.

Also where is this improved discipline he speaks of, is it in the boxes of unprocessed referrals recently discovered at my school, which means the children who were written up received no consequences for their actions. Or is it in the classrooms of teachers who no longer write students up because if they do so then they are considered the problem and are brought in to explain their action plans and because it’s not like kids receive any consequences for their actions anyways. I will also let the two students in my classes who were the victims of viscous on campus assaults know that safety is up as well.

As for the strategic plan, the only people who I have seen applaud it and it’s reported gains is the school board itself. How about this I will let my kids write their own tests and then grade them from now on, I wonder if that will improve student performance.

Then there is the college readiness mantra that the school board beats like a drum, which is hurting and setting back children. It’s way past time we stopped preparing kids just for college and it’s time we started preparing them for life. Kids need discipline, structure and a plan to help them achieve, instead of it just being college, college, college, we need to bring back more skill centers and introduce more trades into the school system.

Then I thought what would happen if the mayor had to appoint school board members, which board would you rather see? A board with a politician on his way down, several former teachers who left the profession to become lawyers and a board where nobody has any recent, relative experience working with children in a modern classroom, that’s the make up of our current school board by the way. Or a school board consisting of current teachers who better understand the problems that both modern teachers and students face, parents and other experts in education. The school board I imagine any half competent mayor would appoint.

After reading the superintendents letter he had steered me from having no opinion to thinking the mayor appointing the school board might be a good thing. Think about it what do we have to lose; perhaps it is the two-tiered system of education the school board has created through magnet schools, high drop out rates, low graduation rates, and maybe what we have to gain is a plan for out of control students and finally a district that appreciates teachers and will stop over working and disrespecting them.

To be honest in the end I don’t know if a mayoral appointed school board would do any better, but it’s hard for me to imagine they could do any worse

During World War II, the winter of 1944 saw the German army launch a massive and desperate offensive, which became know as the Battle of the Bulge. The German army encircled the 101st airborne at a small Belgium town known as Bastogne. The Germans then asked the Americans to surrender, their commander General Anthony Clement McAuliffe responded with a one-word answer, Nuts! I think we need more Nuts, people willing to stand up even if it’s hard, here in Florida we have a few but we need more.

Recently teachers and students from various parts of the state, including Jacksonville, with the help of several high-powered political leaders filed a lawsuit against the state specifically the department of education. Some people believe they are nuts. But far more people agree with then and believe that the state of Florida has ignored their responsibility to provide a first class education to the children of Florida, deciding instead to fill the coffers of special interests and fat cat friends.

Our schools or woefully under funded and the state has passed mandate after mandate which if their goal is to set back education, they are accomplishing wonderfully. These brave members of the lawsuit, like General McAuliffe during World War II said enough is enough. My question is why hasn’t our school board chimed in and said Nuts to the state too.

For decades the state decided that children in Northeast Florida weren’t as valuable as children in southern Florida, and under funded our students. The state created the lottery to boost funding to education; instead they stole money from our children to give tax breaks to the rich and to finance pet projects. The state created the almost universally reviled and ridiculed F-Cat saying it would save education instead it’s nearly wrecked it.

Currently the state is requiring teachers to work ten-hour days if they want to keep up with the states latest mandates designed to help education. Who do all these things hurt? They hurt the children of Florida who are our most precious resource, that’s who. We need leaders, a school board and superintendent who are willing to stand up and start doing the right thing even if at first it seems a little nutty.

The school board and superintendent need to step up to the plate and join the lawsuit. They need to tell the state we are not going to continue to over work our teachers with your unfunded mandates, that data note books, learning schedules and curriculums, complicated three page lesson plans that take hours to write, mandatory word walls, unnecessary universal board configurations and meeting after meeting after meeting that only have at best a peripheral impact on education are going to be the first things we get rid of. These things also have the affect of taking teachers away from children and have diminished the enthusiasm for teaching for thousands of teachers here in Jacksonville and throughout the state.

The school board needs to have the city council put a better Jacksonville style once cent sales tax on the ballot with the money dedicated to children’s issues, similar to what several counties in southern Florida have done. This way we can let the citizens of Jacksonville decide if the future of their children is important or not. People who are comfortable with crime in the streets, paying more for police, beds in our jails and more for insurance, people who are not interested in attracting higher paying businesses to Jacksonville will vote against it. People who care about the future of Jacksonville and its children will vote for it, I happen to think there is more of the latter.

They need to tell the state it’s time they funded children at no worse than the nations average. We’re quite okay with people not getting tax breaks on second and third homes, and think it’s time the bottled water industry and others started paying their fair share.

They need to say to the state that the f-cat is not working and has not worked. Instead give us a reasonable pretest for teachers to administer to the children and the beginning of a nine weeks and a post-test to be given at the end of the nine weeks. Then give teachers the resources they need so they can teach and get out of their way.

The school board and superintendent need to say nuts, enough is enough and if they don’t perhaps its time teachers did.

Some state teacher unions have urged teachers to not work one minute more than the hours they are paid for. In case you didn’t know it most teachers work many unpaid hours. They grade papers or write lesson plans at home. They stay after to tutor or to meet with parents. They spend hours working on data notebooks, Individual Education Plans and dozens of other things they are required to do and they do so off the books for free.

I say if the school board is not going to do the right thing then from now on teachers’ concentrate just on teaching their children and not the other superfluous stuff. Now teachers will need to protect themselves they will need to keep a log of what they are doing so when their administration, state or district come to them and ask why this or that is not done they can point to their log and ask when am I supposed to have done this. Then they can point to the contract that says teachers are only required to work seven and a third hours a day and the administration is required to give them time to complete all their duties and tasks.

Furthermore the union should announce they would back to the hilt any teacher who decides to do this, even first through third year teachers who can be let go merely because of a principal’s prerogative.

For years we have waited for the state to do the right thing and at every opportunity they have avoided it. We now need the school board to do the right thing and join the lawsuit against the state. To wait much longer for the school board and superintendent, especially with their track record of abysmal graduation and drop out rates, the two tiered system of education they have created through the magnet school programs, and the abysmal fashion in which they treat their teachers, to wait for them to do the right thing much longer may just be nuts

Dead and Gone
Adrian C. Floyd, 19, left prison last month and lived four days before he was gunned down on a Jacksonville street. I didn’t know Adrian; but he was living about a mile from my childhood home when he was killed. I could however guess his story.

His father was out of the picture and he lived with his mother who worked a lot, she tried to be there for him, to provide for him but no matter what she did she couldn’t really get ahead and that wore on her. He spent a lot of time on his own, or with children from similar homes. He went to school but wasn’t that interested in it; his grades weren’t that great and he was in trouble a fair amount.

If that’s not his story maybe it’s Jeremy Ervin Godbolt Jr. age 20 fatally shot by the police or Robert Lee Kearney Jr., 24, killed in a drive by, or Willie Golden, 28 died after being shot in a home.
Perhaps it’s Kanyon D. Durham age 18 arrested for murder or DeShawn Leon Green, 25, and Bruce W. Brice Jr., 22 arrested for the same crime. Maybe it’s one of the 13 members of the 45th street posse ages 19-26 arrested for crimes ranging from selling drugs to murder.

I am sure it’s one of their stories probably a lot more and it’s also my story.

These are young men whose lives are now over, and it’s partly our fault. We sat back and allowed them to skate through the school system and I am sure the criminal justice system without any real consequences for their actions. How many of them would have had a different fate if when they were younger we would have said we’re serious, we are not going to put up with your behavior, there will be consequences, you must get an education/trade/skill, and where we are going to be tough on you, we will be there for you

How do I know? Well it’s because people don’t go from being a model citizen to being a murderer. Believe it or not it starts with them not doing their homework and then with them being disrespectful to a teacher. It escalates with them getting in fights and failing classes, but all the way they are pushed along. Promoted without the minimum skills because we want our graduation rates to be high or we are afraid to hurt their self-esteem by failing them.

Then we just hoped for the best despite the fact we knew they were either in trouble or could be. Sure we’ll provide free breakfasts and lunches for some but good luck on finding dinner, or food on the weekends, holidays and over the summer. We did very little despite the fact we can tell what children are in trouble by their grades or behavior or their parents lack of involvement.

Furthermore instead of teaching more children a skill or finding an education track that they might be interested in, we insist they follow a college track that the Duval County School Board thinks every child should be on. Also instead of providing them the social services they need we just hope the parents will take care of it even though with a wink and a nod to each other we know they won’t. Would some of these young men barely out of childhood had a different fate had we provided them different options. When are we going to learn that hoping for the best, putting more police on the streets and building more prisons doesn’t work. It’s not like we have to reinvent the wheel or break the bank either.

We should make it if a kid doesn’t have the skills to advance they get retained. No more social promotions or pushing them along so they are the next grade or schools problem, and teachers should be applauded for holding kids back not looked at like they aren’t good teachers. Some children learn at different rates and some children have different abilities, they need to be nurtured even if it takes longer, plus if a kid has the skills (no matter how long it takes) they need then they can’t help but to do better.

Next we have to have programs that children are interested in when they get the basic skills. Kids that want to drive trucks shouldn’t be taking algebra II. We need more skills and trades, more hands on activities. If kids are interested in things they will always, always do better.

Then we have to bring discipline back to the classroom, and the way we do that is by having meaningful consequences for children’s behavior. We don’t have to instill fear in children but we have to make sure they don’t want to do whatever they did again. We also don’t send kids home to their video games and ipods, we keep them at school, we put them to work, we suspend privileges; whatever it takes for as long as it takes until they get the message. Then we hug them and tell them we are proud of them.

If disciplined, excited about learning kids reach high school, then instead of having all these coaches, district people and directors of turn around schools, we can hire more social workers and counselors so children can get the support and help they need when they are not at school.

The system of social promotions, no consequences for behavior and a curriculum that serves only a few isn’t working, and if you want proof ask Adrian Floyd.

Above was my story, I got lucky, so many others didn’t, and how many others won’t until we say enough is enough

It’s all Magnet Schools Fault
Why do we have crime in our streets: magnet schools. Why are so many of our schools failing: magnet schools. Why are our graduation rates abysmal: magnet schools. Why can’t Jacksonville attract big businesses: magnet schools.

Swine flu, the Mayan “end of the world” calendar, your wife made the casserole you hate; it’s all magnet schools fault. I am at a loss to explain why we haven’t grabbed our pitchforks, lit some torches and headed down to the nearest one to put these artificial monstrosities out of our misery.

I exaggerate just a bit and I do so because in actuality I think the concept of magnet schools is a good one. If we had a school system that was thriving I think they would be a noble luxury, unfortunately our school district is not thriving, it’s languishing and despite the school boards recent pat on the back that they reached some goals they set for themselves, things seem dark for so many of our children.

Just so there is no mistake, I am not talking about magnet programs at neighborhood schools, nor am I talking about the Douglas Anderson School of the arts and the Frank Peterson Academy of Technology. Where I think some things about those schools are unfair, they are basically skills center where children can go learn about things they are interested in.

No I am talking about Stanton and Paxon the jewels of the Duval County school system, nationally ranked as some of the best of the schools around. Yes that’s whom I am talking about, and make no mistake despite all their accolades and all the powerful statistics that the district can muster that support their existence; they are a big part of the problem.

I recently participated on a panel discussion about magnet schools. On the pro magnet school side there was a principal of one, the counties director of magnet schools, the counties director of business operations, and two parents whose children attend magnet schools the opposing side, me, just me. I didn’t quite feel like Custard riding into the little big horn, but it was close.

They came at me with how it takes a lottery to get in, they didn’t mention that those two schools actively recruit the best middle schoolers to go there, and they also didn’t mention that it’s just the children of parents who apply that get to be considered. So in reality it is a lottery, just a lottery for a select few.

They said they don’t get extra resources, and that’s true they might not get extra money from the county, that is if you don’t include the extra money we spend on busses to get children there. They do however have a set of parents that other schools would love to have. Many are committed and helpful; they donate both their time and money. It’s just not the kids being siphoned away from the neighborhood schools to the magnet schools it’s their involved families as well

They said they handle academic issues the same way they are handled at the neighborhood school and that is any child drops below a 2.0 they get special help and have a semester to bring it up, before they are reassigned. (Below a 2.0!?! Really!?!) That’s my entire third period class. That’s a forth of the neighborhood school I teach at. Where should we start sending the kids that don’t turn it around? Oh that’s right we are obligated to teach everybody that comes through our doors regardless of grades.

They said they handle discipline the same way it’s handled at the neighborhood school. How many kids do they have that don’t want to be there? How many kids do they have that don’t care about academics? How many kids do they have that haven’t given one thought to the future beyond what they are going to do in the next day or so. I bet the answer is not many. Now ask the same questions about neighborhood schools and the answers would be a lot more than you might think.

They said it’s the parent’s fault and that the district can’t be held responsible if they don’t apply, to which I responded why couldn’t teachers make recommendations, is it because it we would somehow upset the delicate balance they have created?

Blaming the parents for a child’s behavior, a child’s academics and using it as an out to explain why magnet schools are fair, are all reasonable arguments, there are also tired and lazy arguments. It’s apparent that a significant amount of families for whatever reason are abdicating their responsibilities, but crime in our streets being committed by young people, the high drop out rates, and low graduation rates tell me it’s time we as a society stepped up and filled the void. If the parents aren’t going to do it, and the schools is not going to do it, then who is going to do it? It’s only the future of our children and our city that is at stake.

The bottom line is, what school you attend shouldn’t determine your fate. All schools should be safe intuitions of learning and all students and teachers deserve to have the resources they need to be successful. Having Stanton and Paxon even though they just take in a combined few thousand students makes that impossible. It makes the whole system unfair.

I remember thinking as they battered my opinions one after another, is this how you justify things, do these half truths help you sleep better at night, do they mitigate the fact we are leaving thousands of children behind, or are you just mouth pieces of the school board ho celebrate every thing written about the magnet schools and sweep under the rug everything written about our failing schools. The leadership in the county is okay with the two tiered system of education we have created and they are all right with the generation of have knots woefully prepared for life, that we are putting out into the streets. I am not, and I hope you aren’t either.

Despite all this I don’t think we should get rid of the magnet schools, we should just have different ones. I just think we should have magnet schools for the sixth grader that can’t read, the twelfth grader who is not going to graduate with a regular diploma because they can’t pass the f-cat and the capable special education student who with accommodations and modifications could graduate with a standard diploma. In short we should have magnet schools for kids who need extra help and services to become successful, not magnet schools for children who most likely would be successful anywhere they attended and that includes their neighborhood schools too.

Creating Criminals
This year the Duval County school system will create doctors and lawyers, teachers and business men, they will create engineers, scientists, and accountants too but sadly they will also create more than their fair share of criminals and bad citizens as well. And they will do it at the same schools that your sons and daughters, your nieces or nephews or your neighbor’s kids go to.

If you want evidence think about my friend who was pistol whipped last January during a robbery or my neighbor who was recently gang raped in broad day light on the street or the residents of 45th street and Moncrief who were terrorized for over a year by a gang of street punks. Of the thirteen young men arrested for crimes ranging from homicide to drug possession four are still teenagers.

If you want further evidence just walk through the halls between classes at most neighborhood schools or go to portable one of the turnaround school I work in, that’s my portable.

I can point them out to you, the second year freshmen with six F’s and one D on their latest report card. The junior who doesn’t bring any materials to class and tells me he can’t write with a pen only a pencil when I offer him a pen. The multitude of students who have massed dozens of tardies in my class with no penalty, or seem both outraged and confused when I announce to them that we have work to do, something we do even on Fridays. You can also see the girl that hijacks my forth period class every day, yelling at me telling me no, even when I ask the most reasonable of requests like please take your seat and quietly do your work. I could go on and on.

For the most part day after day I let it go. You see I have to pick my battles. If I fight everything then I am considered the problem and my classroom management skills are questioned, or if I write up to many black students it’s whispered that I might be a racist. These are things that as a teacher you don’t want to be thought of as.

In my class students get several opportunities to be disrespectful to me or to refuse my reasonable requests, instead of just the one they should, before I send them out. When I do some students question my logic, they tell me nothing’s going to happen to them and that I will be the one that gets in trouble, though when they say it, expletive deletes usually accompany their words.

Sometimes they are back in a few minutes with cat eating grins on their faces because they were just asked not to do it again, though administrators call it counseling. Other times they receive the most minor of inconveniences, I say inconveniences because for something to be a consequence it has to be meaningful. That’s if even that happens.

A colleague of mine recently stumbled across boxes of unprocessed referrals from last year. I suspect they weren’t processed because referrals affect a schools grade, the only alternative I could think of is the administration is either lazy and doesn’t care or they were directed to ignore the referrals by higher ups. Who cares if children are taught its okay to be defiant, disruptive and disrespectful, which is what happens if they receive no consequences for their actions as long as the school grade improves.

Above isn’t exclusive to my class or school by any means, it happens all across the county and at every grade too. First graders threatening teachers, fifth graders caught having sex, middle schoolers assaulting school board employees and wore are all nearly daily occurrences here in Duval County. A few here and there are removed but most are sent back to their classes with no real consequences where quite often their behavior worsens.

When we ignore bad behavior or don’t deliver a real consequence for it, it invariably worsens and why wouldn’t it. I am not a bring swats back to school kind of guy, but what about having children work all day Saturday or after school. Why can’t schools mandate community service hours like the legal system can, and then have the police pick them up to make sure they do it. What do you think happens to children who receive no consequences, well I will tell you, they grow up to be adults who think they can do whatever they want and are easily angered when they can’t. They join gangs, they commit crimes and they are not the person you want sitting next to you at work.

Involved parents of good children don’t think this doesn’t apply to you or your family. What does your child think we he sees no consequences given to the disruptive student, do they think they are cool; do they mimic their behavior or fall into that crowd? Furthermore even if they don’t, if a teacher spends just ten percent of his or her time dealing with the unruly student, they, your student is missing 18 days worth of instruction. I know teachers who say they spend up to fifty percent of their time working with the students who are discipline problems or don't care. If your child is in one of those classes, do you know how much instruction they are missing?

I know what you are thinking and you are right, of course it’s the parents of disruptive children’s responsibility, and yes it is their job to keep these children in line, to raise them right. The thing is, if we know some parents are abdicating their responsibilities, and it is painfully obvious that more than a few are, then isn’t it up to us, society, and the school system to step up and do something because if not us then who. Isn’t it time we stopped just hoping they did the right thing and did the right thing ourselves, regardless of effort or cost.

And the cost being prohibitive is another tired argument, because make no mistake we are already paying for it. Its’ not pay now or pay later, it’s we are already paying now and we are going to have to pay a lot more later. Think about it, we are already paying for it through higher insurance rates, crime and more police on the streets; we are footing the bill with violence and blood. How much is it worth for your daughter not to be raped or your son not to be murdered, or are you just content hoping it doesn’t happen to them, you or somebody else you know or love.

How many of those kids in the 45th street gang did schools make by ignoring their behavior or by giving them no real consequence for it. How many mothers are saying he was such a good boy until he got mixed up in the wrong crowd? How many could we have saved had we done something, my bet is more than a few.

Please don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of good kids here in Duval County and a bunch of them have classes in portable one at my school. But there are kids that the schools need to look out for, because if they don’t then society will have too.

I actualy like magnet schools
I read with interest Dr. Adams letter about my back page editorial on magnet schools and even though the tone of his letter was very anti what I wrote I honestly have to say for the most part I agree with him.

He’s right we shouldn’t get bogged down with a magnet school debate because when talking about the ills of the Duval County school district, magnet schools are far down the list. We have many serious problems here, ineffective leadership, out of control students, an embarrassing lack of resources and an apathetic citizenry that refuses to realize that the problems facing Jacksonville are going to get worse not better unless they stand up and do something, just to name a few.

He might be surprised to know this but I am for magnet schools. I just think we should have magnet schools for the sixth grader who can’t read and write, the twelfth grader who because they haven’t passed the f-cat isn’t going to graduate with a diploma, the capable special education student dumped into classes that give them little hope for a productive future and the angry student who’s families have abdicated their responsibilities. In short kids who really need the extra resources and special programs. Resources are scarse and I don't think they should be used on children who will pretty much be successful anywhere, including at their neighborhood schools.

He might disagree with my “factually incorrect and oversimplified accusatory statements” his words that I happen to disagree with, but the undeniable, indubitable truth about magnet schools is, they are thriving, where far to many many of the neighborhood school are failing, and their must be reasons for this. Blaming parents is an old, tired exscuse, if we as a society know a significant amount of them aren't doing what they need to do, then it's time we as a school district stepped in, because if not us then who, after all tt's only the future that is at stake.

I guess my only real disagreement is I don’t happen to think we should have a public education system that where were you attend disproportionately determines what opportunities you receive and that's exactly what is going on in Jacksonville now.

There is a huge disconnect in Duval County between our teachers and our administrators. In short we have a house divided and history has many examples on how that works out. Because of this it’s no wonder why as a district we have big problems, with achievement, low graduation rates, high dropout rates, and discipline.

This disconnect became blatantly apparent to me during a recent walk through, by Leila Mousa one of the Regional Executive Directors charged with providing focused support to help districts meet student proficiency goals. If her name sounds familiar it’s because she has worked in the district for nearly four decades. She started as a classroom teacher and rose to serve as Assistant to the Superintendent.

Most recently she led the districts Advancement Placement (AP) efforts; for three years, Mousa guided the College Board program to increase enrollment and student achievement. Enrollment did increase dramatically unfortunately student achievement did not we had some of the lowest passing rates around, but like many people with connections after she failed spectacularly she was promoted.

I had never met her before as she, my principal, Mr. Belemy the director of turnaround schools and a few others strolled through the library the end of first period one day. My glass had been displaced to the library as my portable was being retiled. They had been taking a test but most of my students had finished and were quietly talking to each other

Ms. Mousa stopped and asked what my students were doing; I informed her they had just finished a test. She then asked how long it took. I replied some finished early but I allotted the whole period for the test. This was apparently the first of many things I had done wrong, that she informed me about in front of my students.

No, no, no she replied that’s too long. Well, I started; I have an ESE class and its part of a lot of their IEP’s that they get extra time. What book are you using, she then asked. We’re using an older Earth/Space science book that I really like a lot, I replied. Oh no that won’t do, they are supposed to be using the same book the standard students use. I calmly answered, I am differentiating my curriculum some (again most of my kids have written into their IEP’s modified curriculums, alternative materials, plus we don’t issue books to ESE students at my school) but I am teaching the same standards the regular ed. kids are doing. No, no, no she went on and then she turned to my principal and said, get this teacher some help. I sat there smiling a bit in disbelief. This woman just dressed me down in front of my kids and colleagues and she one of the most powerful education people around really had no idea what she was talking about.

Total interaction time, about three minutes, at the very end of a period where my kids had taken a test and I had been displaced from my classroom and all my materials to the library. She was amazingly able to sum up and judge my students learning and me without listening to a word I said, or asking them one question. As she left one of my kids was very offended perhaps more so than me, do you want me to get her, she asked. No I replied. Another asked if I was in trouble. I assured him I was not, though to be honest I had no idea. Other teacher’s came up to me during the day outraged by what had happened. I just sort of shook my head, partly because I was still a little stunned and partly because I am not new to the district and I know this is how many district people treat teachers.

They often just show up unannounced with an us versus them attitude. Many are rude and disrupt the flow of learning. They change policies and procedures during the middle of the term, they often give more work to teachers and smile like it should be nothing and they rarely seem to have their act together. The district is still in the process of accepting standards, our M.A.P. tests didn’t arrive till week eight and they changed the lesson plan template just a few weeks ago. Furthermore there is an old saying, if you don’t like what one district person is saying, ask another, and if they want something from you be prepared to drop everything and get it for them, though if you want something from them be prepared to wait, that is if you get a response at all. That paints a pretty bleak picture right, it also paints a pretty accurate picture. You should know however there are numerous district people who are hard working and conscientious; the thing is there are so many of the other variety it makes things difficult for teachers and that difficulty sadly trickles down to students.

I have a solution however.

Every position that requires a certificate to hold, that’s every dean, every job coach, every principal, every cluster chief, every intervention specialist, every single position should be required to teach one class. They report to a home school before reporting to the school board building or where they are supposed to be. Administrators at schools can stagger what classes they are to teach.

The dean may now realize it’s not so easy just to stop class to call a parent, and may decided to give some meaningful consequences after they are disrespected a few times instead of just sending students back to class with a please don’t do that anymore.

The interventionist who will now be responsible for writing and implementing behavior plans something that is not so easy to find time to do when you have seventy kids and six classes to teach, maybe they will finally understand teacher’s frustrations.

Every coach can try out his or her information to see if it works or not before requiring teachers to do it. Every principal can get a real feeling for their schools and what it means to be a teacher in today’s environment.

The district person may finally realize how insane it is to write complex and basically meaningless lesson plans, follow learning schedules regardless of children’s progress and keep massive data logs, if they have to do it. They obviously don’t understand how insane it is to do now.

Arguments like they already have to many responsibilities just don’t carry water. Teachers many of who work ten hours a day are told to suck it up, that stuff has to get done. The district people can now know what teachers, who are already given more tasks than they can do, are required to do. Just one class a day is all I am asking for the rest of the time they can do whatever it is they are supposed to do.

If we put the thousands of district people and administrators back in the classrooms, preferably classrooms at the toughest schools, classes would be smaller and many of our so-called experts would be back working directly with kids, that’s got to be beneficial right? The distrct people also might get a better clue as to what works and what doesn’t work and there is so much not working right now, if they got a clue that would be beneficial as well.

Plus shouldn't they want to work with kids, after all they are working for the school system, I wonder how many would retire or look for other work if they were required to go back to the classroom even if it was just for one class a day, my bet would be the numbers would be high.

Most administrators are former teachers who for whatever reason, perhaps, money, power, more responsibility or kid weariness have decided to move out of the classroom. I don’t blame them, quite often I wish I made a wage where I could pay my bills or save for a rainy day, there are many days after being disrespected by students or overwhelmed by more work than I can possibly do that I wish I had less kid time, and finally to be honest there is something alluring about being able to tell people to jump and them being required to ask how high.

However teachers have jumped as high as they can, they are overwhelmed, they are frustrated and they feel like the people that are supposed to be working with them to make their job easier to make them better, district people, have no idea what’s going on or what teachers have to do. They must have no idea right, because if they did and still acted the way they do, well that would just be wrong.

Talking with Tony
Mondays Times Union talked about turn around schools, the nine failing or D high schools the district has and three lines in the piece that summed up the problem, unfortunately I am not sure if the powers-that be understand what they are.

The first line stated: On Monday, Bellamy (the director of turn around schools) and Jackson Principal Iranetta Wright visited an English teacher's classroom to check her data books and board configuration to see they met expectations. They didn’t go to see if the kids were engaged or if the teacher was teaching, instead they went to check out the teachers board, something I imagine they spent hours and hours creating but barely use if at all, also teachers gets their data from working with students not imputing ones and twos into a grid. The state and district have lost sight of what is important and that is actual teaching.

The next line stated "I don't have time to spend time on something that's going to take time away from me being in the classroom and doing what needs to be done with the academic pieces," Wright said. Well it must be nice to be a principal because teachers are buried in data collection, lesson plan creation, meetings, learning curriculums, schedules and a whole host of things that only have a peripheral relationship with teaching. The powers that be don’t get it, if the deck is stacked against teachers it will be stacked against students as well.

The third line was: It's all about students "earning the best education that Duval County can provide," Bellamy said. "That is the bottom line." If that’s true then lets return discipline to the classroom by giving real consequences to children that hijack learning. If a teacher spends ten percent of their time disciplining one child, then every other students looses 18 days of instruction. Teachers in turn around schools often spend more than ten percent of their time disciplining. Treat your teacher’s right, because the better they are, the less overwhelmed they are, the better job they will do with the children, and finally stop social promotions, students that can’t read or write on grade level don’t get to high schools through magic, they are promoted there. Where it is true students retained in high school have a greater risk of dropping out, third graders don’t, lets start keeping a few back until they get the material, just passing them along doesn't do them or the schools any favors.

Instead of doing those common sense things, we are told word walls, precise board configurations and data notebooks will fix the problems, sadly nowhere is teachers teaching and students learning mentioned in the solution.

Magnet Mayhem
If you could have the top of the line model of any car you wanted, tricked out as the kid’s say you would take it wouldn’t you; that would be a no brainer right. But say in exchange for this car with all its bells and whistles you had to live in a rundown shack where the roof leaked, rats congregated and the electricity was intermittent at best, would you still make that choice, probably not right. Well the Duval county school board made the choice to take the car and the shack years ago when it created Stanton College Preparatory school and in doing so at the same time were able to stick it to their long time foe the NAACP.

Nearly fifty years ago the NAACP sued the school board claiming it was practicing segregation, it may have been better for the children of Jacksonville had they done nothing. The school board simply exchanged one form of segregation for another one that is perhaps even more insidious. Now they provide a few chosen students opportunities and advantages, the haves, while stealing from the vast amount of students, the have not’s to do so.

Stanton and then later Paxon and Douglass Anderson were created to bus white students from white neighborhoods to black schools in black neighborhoods. For years African-American students were forced to leave their neighborhood schools and bus across town to far away locations. Now it was time for some payback as the white community was going to see how it felt to have their babies taken to unfamiliar and very different parts of town often where poverty and crime ran rampant. I can only guess that the powers that be in the NAACP thought if more people could see how things were then more people would care. I can also imagine what the school board thought too.

At their meetings behind closed doors I can see it now, the school board decided they had one more trick up its sleeve to replace segregation and bussing its last two solutions to the “colored problem” and they thought they could do so without giving anything of value up to the NAACP, in fact by appearing to acquiesce they would make sure African American children continued to languished in underachieving schools. They did this by agreeing with the NAACP to create magnet schools and like with Jack who thought he was getting a deal for trading his donkey for beans there were numerous unforeseen consequences on the horizon.

Are the last two paragraphs factually correct, probably not; I wasn’t there, but even if it didn’t happen that way I can definitely attest to the two-tiered system of education that we currently have with its haves, the magnet schools and it’s have not’s the neighborhood schools, that was created by this agreement with the school board and NAACP.

The agreement to create magnet schools was outlined in the Corrected Stipulation and Agreement between the NAACP and the school board, specifically the part that says: The Board was required, with community input, to implement and aggressively promote magnet programs as incentives to attract white students to these schools (1). The reason being they had to attract white students to these new magnet schools was because they were going to be put in black neighborhoods, afterall why would white families send their children across town to go to schools in “bad” neighborhoods, well the answer is they wouldn’t unless they were offered something.

At first they were offered a college preparatory school but later a performing arts school and second college prep. school followed. The powers that be sold it to the public that these were programs only offered to a limited degree in the neighborhood schools. I say sold it because in most schools, even back then, they offered advanced placement classes and had theater and band programs.

A lot of the cities more academically capable and arts inclined students jumped at the chance, to attend these schools, so many that they became like “exclusive” clubs where only a select few could get in. Waiting lists and lotteries were created. African American students however, per the agreement were guaranteed 20% of the slots whether they met the exclusive standards or not.

Stanton, Anderson and later Paxon became renowned success stories, the tricked out cars of the academic world, unfortunately they have also helped to turn many neighborhood schools into rundown shacks, the turnaround or intervening schools of the academic world. Included on this list is Raines and Ribault two traditionally African American schools and Lee, Ed White, Jackson and Forrest high schools, all of which have student bodies with a high percentage of African American students, much higher than the twenty percent the magnet schools are required to take. In short the NAACP traded one group of failing schools for another. This couldn’t have been what they had in mind when they agreed with the school board to create magnet schools. The corresponding results seem to indicate that the NAACP was duped, but they weren’t the only ones.

Do you know what bothers me the most about the magnet schools and I will include Frank Peterson with the above mentioned three?

It’s not the fact the most capable students in the county have a lower student/teacher ratio than all the neighborhood schools in the county with the exception of Ribault and that’s even without having any special education classes that often drive down class size ratios.

It’s not the fact that students at Peterson and Anderson get an extra forty-five minutes of instruction while students at the neighborhood schools are kicked to the curb at 1:45.

It’s not the fact that students at the magnet schools have curriculums tailor made for them; something that is completely lacking at the one size fits all neighborhood schools.

It’s not the fact that the start times of the four magnet schools is 8:25; while the neighborhood schools have starts time of 7:30 and that experts agree that the start times for high schools is too early and that high school students are often sleep deprived.

It’s not the fact that students at the magnet schools must maintain a 2.0 and if they don’t or if they create any discipline problems they are kicked out, while the neighborhood schools have an obligation to try and educate everybody who walks through their doors, regardless of grades or behavior problems.

It’s not the fact that the success of the magnet schools went to the school boards head and now they are trying to fit every student no matter where they attend or what their interests are onto a college track.

It’s not the fact that staffs at the neighborhood schools supposedly can’t offer as good an education as kids can get at the magnet schools, because if so why have them.

It’s not the fact that for decades the school board spent a disproportionate amount of money on bussing students to magnet schools.

It’s also not for the fact that the surrounding counties don’t have any failing high schools but also don’t have any magnet schools.

It’s because the talented kid, the smart kid and the mechanically inclined kid get to do what they want and as a bonus get to go to schools that are relatively peaceful that don’t have the same discipline issues that neighborhood schools have. At the same time the regular kid and it doesn’t matter if they are black or white, doesn’t and they are told to lump it and like it. The regular kid that just gets up and goes to school is the most neglected and underserved group in the county and it also happens to be its biggest. What group did you fall into, what group does your child fall into, and regardless how is this fair.

Who do we have to blame for this? Well the school board and the NAACP started it, but ultimately it’s the citizens of Jacksonville who allow it to continue. In short we have the school district we deserve, I just happen to feel our children or at least the vast majority of our children deserve better.


Turn around schools.
Not only do I work at one of these schools but I am also a stake holder in the community and am very concerned about the direction education is taking, as we all should be. The article was very revealing, reading between the line it talked about the plight of teachers and the absurdity of how things currently are in education.

Teachers as a group are nurturing, they have a need to give of themselves and a desire to be helpful. Unfortunately the powers-that-be know this and shamefully take advantage of those traits. The Times Union article, I think quite accidentally emphasized this point.

Trina Anderson the teacher profiled in the article mentioned how she works from seven in the morning to five in the afternoon every day, something that is more typical than you might think. But friends o you realize that is a ten hour day and Ms. Anderson is only getting paid for seven and a third hours of them. However it’s worse because she mentions even when home, she is constantly working on lesson plans, digging into data and working on her craft.

Vicki Reynolds the district’s director of human resources said, when talking about all the educators who have resigned, “I think the theme is, I didn’t know how much work this was going to be.” She might as well have said, the theme for teachers who stay should be to expect to be given more work than they can possibly do and not expect to get paid for a lot of it. They should also expect to give up time with their families, expect to do meaningless task after meaningless task, and expect to be taken advantage of by their employer.

I have a friend at an A school who has been teaching for nineteen years and she told me, it’s gotten so bad that if it was just her (she has two daughters) she would quit and get a job at the mall. I have another friend who has to take a break from writing lesson plans most nights so she can read and tuck in her sons, and then she is right back to it. These stories aren’t unusual they are in fact fairly typical of how things are. How is this right? Well the answer is it’s not, it’s embarrassing and wrong and the school district, the teachers union and the community as a whole should be ashamed of itself for letting it happen.

It’s also not vacancies that are preventing these turn around and intervening schools from improving, it’s the system. The teacher in the article has 31 children in her class, these are children at low performing schools with few economic resources and social safety nets, yet we cram them into classrooms like we do sardines into cans and then wonder why a few get left behind or underachieve.

Overwhelming teachers with task after task is no way to improve student performance either. The powers-that-be scream data, data, data, that they want data driven classrooms. If the state is so interested in collecting data why don’t they get statisticians to come in and do it? The answer is they don’t because they can force teachers to do it. Furthermore and sadly, all this data probably gives the teacher the same information they would have by merely working with their students for a few days.

And finally, where is the data that says posting standards, creating word walls, spending hours creating complicated lesson plans and inputting data help facilitate learning; the answer is there is none. If you want proof of this look at Ribault; the state has been there for years yet they are still failing. I do hear however that their bulletin boards are amazing. That is no dig at the fine staff of Ribault, I have no doubt that if the state would get out of their way they would improve.

Next, lesson plans; if the goal of the county is to turn teachers into drones or trained monkeys devoid of initiative, creativity and flexibility as they give teachers learning calendars, schedules and curriculums, instead of forcing teachers to spend hour after hour creating complicated lesson plans why don’t they just give lesson plans to teachers. Many teachers especially those that have been doing it for a while, use lesson plans just as a template, a list of thing s that they need to cover and rarely refer to them when they are actually teaching. Teachers differentiate their instruction to students not because it’s on a piece of paper but because they know that’s what their kids need.

Learning schedules are also a big part of the problem. Teachers are told continuously not to fall too far behind and after a while teachers are forced to move along regardless if the students have mastered the material or not. That is the reality of learning schedules. I teach a special education science class at a turnaround school and I recently had a student transfer into my class from a regular ed. science class that she had been failing. Before long she had an A and I asked her why she struggled in regular ed. and then was doing so well in my class especially since I follow the same standards. She told me that I went slow and drilled and made sure we knew the material before moving on to the next subject and in her other class they covered something and then moved on regardless of whether she got it or not. Kids learn at different rates and of Ms. Andersons thirty-one students; I wonder how many have been forced to move to the next subject even though they hadn’t mastered the last one, and this is through no fault of the teachers but because of leaning schedules?

You want education to improve, bring discipline back to the classroom, if a teacher spends ten percent of their time disciplining unruly or unmanageable students all of the other students lose out on 18 days of instructions. Teachers in big classrooms at turn around schools often spend far more than ten percent of their day instilling discipline. Then let teachers teach. The state should give teachers a (manageable) list of what they want covered and the materials to do so and then get out of their way.

Teachers don’t mind being held accountable, teachers don’t mind working hard and teachers don’t mind doing a little extra after all it is in their nature. They would however like to get paid a fair wage to so, be able to spend a decent amount of time with their families and not be taken advantage of. Right now that’s not how things are. The deck is stacked against teachers, and what the state doesn’t realize, is that if the deck is stacked against teachers it’s stacked against the children too, make that, they don’t realize or they don’t care.

Amber Alert
The school district recently lost 2000 children yet there was no amber alert to notify the city to be on the lookout, no outcry, no sense of worry instead and with some fanfare the district announced a rather remarkable improvement in attendance, sadly I found this announcement as disingenuous as most things the school board does and do so for the following reasons.

The district doesn’t really think attendance is important. On page 32 of teacher handbooks throughout the county it says: academic grades will be based on student performance. Points may not be deducted for classroom conduct, participation or attendance. Which is it Right there it says it doesn’t matter if they miss or not. Teachers are told to bend over backwards to provide missed assignments to children regardless of the reason they missed them. Furthermore students today are becoming masters of the system; they know that safety nets like compass odyssey and grade recovery make it nearly impossible for them to fail. Why should they come to school if they can just drop in every once in a while take a few tests and be caught up. The district in an effort to improve its abysmal graduation and dropout rates has made it nearly impossible to fail, whether you attend or not.

The numbers are misleading: 14,189 to 12,328 students who missed twenty days is a notable decline, but the district has also lost children as the population of Jacksonville has increased. In 2007 the district had 115,456 students then in 2008 the district had 113,507, this during the same time that the chamber of commerce reports a 7.1% increase in Jacksonville’s overall population.

That’s at least two thousand and probably more missing children from our school rolls from a city that is continuously growing. Where are the children and isn’t it odd that both numbers decreased by nearly 2000? Could it be that more and more families are opting for home schooling and private schools because they are fed up with the district? Two reasons this might be true is that private schools often don’t have the same discipline problems as public schools, and capable ESE students can get standard diplomas at private schools rather than special diplomas.

Discipline Problems: Many students who miss a lot of days are not interested in school and are often disciple problems when they do attend. Did you realize if a teacher spends ten percent of time disciplining a child then all the other children in that class are going to miss out on eighteen days of instruction. What is the difference between being there and not being able to learn and not being there? If your student misses five days in a year and is in a class with an unruly student your child has now missed at least 23 days of instruction but probably more. You might not want to hear it but teachers all through the district smile when certain students are absent because it means they can teach and the other students can learn. Them being there is much worse than them not being there. Without a doubt the most underserved and neglected group in the district is the average kid who just comes to school.

Curriculum: Students that want to drive trucks are forced to take algebra II, is just one example about how the current curriculum serves only a portion of the student body. A good number of children don’t plan to go to college and you know what, that’s okay; people can be good, productive members of society without a college degree, or they can go back to school in the future when they are ready. It’s time we stopped forcing every student down that one path, which is the only one available to kids unless you go to one of the exclusive magnet schools. The district has decimated the industrial arts program and replaced them with advanced placement programs that, not surprisingly, we don’t do very well in. Furthermore each year there is fewer and fewer art, drama and music classes offered and physical education classes have become massive. We wonder why children don’t attend school, while at the same time offering them classes that are above their heads, have nothing to do with what they want to learn or will better prepare them for their future. It’s a wonder more students don’t miss more days.

The F-Cat and Special Diplomas: Seniors who have not passed the F-Cat will not graduate with a regular diploma and the vast majority of ESE students no matter how capable they are will not graduate with a regular diploma either. Instead they will get special diplomas or certificates of completion that don’t have the same value a roll of paper towels does, after all you can use the paper towels for something. It doesn’t even matter what kind of grades they have. Is the reason we don’t offer a boot camp style class for those seniors who haven’t passed the f-cat yet because that would be admitting we just taught to the test? And is the reason we don’t put capable ESE students in regular education classes with accommodations, modifications and support facilitators because it’s too expensive or is it we just don’t care. What would be more beneficial to this group of students, to drop out and begin working on their GEDs or to continue to come to school so they can get a worthless piece of paper? It’s no wonder they don’t come.

When I went to school you could miss nine days in nine weeks. You only got your make up work for an excused absence and it didn’t matter what grade you earned if you missed ten days, you failed. We had the option of taking art, music, and several other electives and if you took P.E. there were no more than thirty students in the class. Kids that were interested in the trades left for half the day to go to a skills center so they could learn about those subjects. Teachers could teach instead of being overwhelmed with task after task and if you acted up you were punished. Finally at the end of the school year we took a minimum level skills test that even if we didn’t do too well on, we were allowed to graduate if we had the grades.

Now it doesn’t matter why student’s miss class, teachers are required to give them the work and they can use compass odyssey or other grade recovery programs, which are often not as rigorous or beneficial as being in class to catch back up. If a student acts up they quickly return to the classroom usually without any real consequences. Students have more classes that they dread and fewer to look forward too, and teachers now have more tasks than they can possibly do.

It’s the nature of schools that we will always need attendance teams, truant officers and social workers to help with attendance but they are reactive measures to the problem. Here are some suggestion on how we be more proactive, let’s allow seniors who have passed the f-cat test out of 12th grade so they can begin the next phases of their lives. How about we make algebra II and a few other classes optional for the students who are interested in them and allow the other students to take classes that they will be both more interested in and suited for. Let’s bring back the industrial arts to more than just a select few. Let’s stop overloading teachers and allow them to teach and put discipline back in the classroom. These are common sense solutions not to just the attendance problem, but most of the problems facing our school district today.

The State is Coming
Since the beginning of the school year my school has been preparing for a state department of education visit. I work at what is called a turnaround school, and where officially that doesn’t mean poor and minority, in reality it does. Getting ready hasn’t been easy either. The staff has been making sure our standards are posted, our bulletin boards are uniform, our word walls are properly labeled and dozens of other time consuming and aggravation educing tasks that at best only have a peripheral relationship to student achievement are accomplished. We have had meeting after meeting, even meetings about meetings to make sure we are all on the same page. As you can imagine anxiety and frustration has been running very high since the beginning of the school year.

To calm the mood, the director of turn around schools came to give us both a heads up and a pep talk. He started with a story about a conversation he had with a teacher at a neighboring school before their visit from the DOE. Frantic, this teacher approached him, letting him know that she was both a good and caring teachers but that she was feeling overwhelmed with all the tasks she had to do in preparation for the states visit. He then looked at us, his current audience and said, “I stopped her right there and said you aren’t doing this for the state you are doing it for the children”. He then looked at us and with his voice wavering like he was doing a tearful Glenn Beck impression, said to the faculty at the school I work at, “all this stuff you are doing, you are doing it for the children.”

I did a double take with my head, my jaw dropped leaving my mouth open as I stared at him in disbelief. I am lucky there were no flies nearby and I had not just finished any honey toast. The first words that first came to my mind, when after a few moments my ability to think coherently returned were, “Are you kidding me? Accept in my head I had a word that started with the letter F in between you and kidding.

So often these people from the district come to us with smiles on their face and tell us how these sudden changes are going to make our lives better, and that the hours of extra and often unnecessary work they are going to have us do is somehow beneficial almost as if it like a favor to us and our students. It’s as if working at One Prudential Drive required people to drink some mind altering cool aide.

Instead of telling us that teaching mentally disabled children water downed academics is going to miraculously cure them, that word walls are going to save education, that data driven classrooms are going to improve kids performances, that posting standards and essential questions are going to jump start learning, and with smiles on their faces telling us that all the extra tasks that don’t involve teaching are beneficial, treating us like we are children who don’t know the difference from right and wrong, instead of gleefully telling us those things and so many others, I and many teachers would have so much more respect for them if they just came at us with a little bit of honesty, if they would treat us like we were adults.

He should have started with, I know you are over worked, I know many of you are staying late or working countless unpaid hours at home, I know many of you are missing time with your families to get things done, I know many of you are pay check to pay check or have to take on second jobs to make ends meet, I know all of you signed up for something different, I know almost universally you think what is going on is unfair both to you and your students and I also know it sucks.

Then it would have been great if he said, I think the state is as ridiculous as you do, this is the same state that has created the f-cat, the practically universally reviled test that has set learning back here in Florida and I feel the frustration that many of you feel as you are forced to just teach what you think is going to be on the test. I understand this is the same state that underfunded children in north east Florida for decades and at the first sign of trouble instead of closing tax loopholes for their fat cat friends cuts money to education and social services, and we all know that Florida is an embarrassing fifty out of fifty in funding for education. Also friends don’t get me started about the lottery and how instead of augmenting education funds it replaced education funds.

He could have continued with, and yes I realize that you as teachers are the most important resources that we as a school district have, and it’s not right that we give you more work than you can possibly do, that over burdening you doesn’t make you effective for the children, in fact it does the opposite. I agree that it’s not right that we change things in midstream like adopting new standards after the year has started or sending out a new lesson plan template three days before the states visit. I commiserate with you over the fact we have practically destroyed, creativity, innovation and flexibility.

I would have liked to hear him say and we are going to fight for you, we are going to stick up for you, and we are going to make things better or you but right now because some stuffed shirt in Tallahassee read an article while waiting for a plane, this is not for better or worse but just plain worse, is where we find ourselves. I don’t like it one bit either, I know it sucks, I know it is wrong but if you do your best, the district will support you to the fullest.

But he didn’t say those things; instead he gave us the company line. You are doing all this for the children.

In a way he was right, teachers do a lot for the children much of which goes unnoticed and unappreciated, but recently we have been doing a lot for the state, things we shouldn’t have to be doing.

Teachers don’t expect it to be easy, it’s just time those that should be working to make things better, the district and the state, did so instead of the opposite.

The state came to my room twice on Friday, we had nice talks each time, and I am oblivious if they checked out my word wall or not.

What I do
Within minutes of meeting me I will often find some way to bring up the fact I am a teacher and I work with disabled children in a local public school. I used to love my job, it brought me such a great sense of pride, and where I still feel that, I often now feel frustration and angst too. One of the reasons for this is because teaching is one of the most misunderstood and quite frankly disrespected professions around.

I am sometimes asked aren't you just glad you have a job and isn’t it great to have summers off, and my answer is always "yes very, however after a second or so, I throw in a, “but”. Now let me ask you a few questions.

Would you work a job where your bosses expected you to put in hundreds of unpaid hours of overtime? The modern teacher is supposed to be data driven which requires untold hours of data entry, this despite the fact most teachers can get the same information about their students by working with them for a few days.

Would you work for a job where you had to spend your money not just for the basic necessities that you needed but also to buy supplies for other people’s children too? I was given one hundred and seventy-five dollars in money to out-fit my classroom. A pencil sharpener, class note books for my kids and a scanner later it was all gone. Many teachers routinely spin hundreds if not thousands of dollars on their students and classrooms.

Would you work at a job where the powers that be piled on arduous and unnecessary task that had nothing to do with your job? The state makes teachers follow learning standards, schedules and curriculums but then requires teachers to spend hours writing lesson plans, why can’t we just use the aforementioned items? A colleague in a neighboring county told me how she was complimented on her lesson plans by her principal and as she walked away she thought to herself, well I write them just for you, I don’t use them for teaching and the kids never see them.

Would you work at a job where you were often disrespected and belittled by those you were charged to help, and then your higher ups looked at you like you were the problem? For consequences to be effective they must be meaningful. What can I take away from someone in my science class that will make them behave, what can I offer. If it gets to the point where my teacher look and me raising my voice doesn’t work there is not a whole lot else I can do, to get the defiant, disrespectful and disruptive student to behave. If I am forced to send them out, I often don’t often have time to call their parents or write the referral right then, after all I have other students who are willing to learn and listen that I have to take care of.

Would you work at a job where the higher ups blamed you when the things they tried to implement, without consulting you failed? Teachers did not get together and decided to socially promote children, nor did they add algebra II to the curriculum, take away art and music, reduce physical education, eliminate must vocational and trade programs, ask for Americas Choice or for the F-Cat. Yet when graduation rates drop and dropout rates rise teachers are the first to be blamed.

Would you sacrifice time with your family for your job? I have to leave my kids in extended day because I have to finish up my work and I can’t help my own child with their homework because I have to grade papers are things I have heard recently. Lesson plans and graded papers do not magically appear and there is rarely time during the day to do them.

Would you work at a job where you were paycheck to paycheck? My first year of teaching my contract was for twenty-six thousand six hundred dollars. By that winter I had four thousand in the bank. Fast-forward ten years and with prices rising and my student loans due, I am little more than paycheck-to-paycheck. Teachers everywhere live in fear of them or a family member getting sick, pray they won’t need new tires and more than a few have second jobs.

Would you work at a job where you received little direction about important things? A colleague of mine feeling overwhelmed, asked his administration to prioritize all the things he had to do and was told they are all equally important. Really, creating a word wall and making sure your bulletin board is standards based is just as important as teaching and engaging your students?

Would you work at a job where you were micromanaged about minutia? I was asked where my essential question was the other day, when I pointed to it on the board; I was asked why it wasn’t labeled essential question. The powers that be seem obsessed with how we have our boards set up, how our seats are arranged and if our lesson plans follow a certain format. I was told that during the state walk though that these are the things that they would be looking for not if students are engaged and learning.

Would you do a job where you were held responsible for other people’s performances? I would say the vast majority of students want to learn and want to do well. Sadly however there is a persistent ten percent or so that has no interest in school or learning, who’s main aim when they come is to cause trouble, yet teachers are still held accountable for their lack of effort and achievement as well as their behavior.

Would you work at a job where the powers that be scrapped one failed experiment after another without asking you what you need? Teaching in Duval County is like the weather in Florida, if you don’t like the latest county wide education policy wait a while and someone will read an article while waiting for a flight and we will be off to the next one; America’s choice or sophomores declaring majors and a half dozen computer programs anyone?

Would you work at a job where you ended up hurting the people you were supposed to help? I got a note from a former math teacher telling me how frustrated and sad she would get as she watched students who just wanted to be a truck driver struggle as they took algebra II. I myself often feel like I am part of the problem. All my kids I teach are getting special diplomas which are basically worthless; they won’t be able to join the military, go to college or be eligible for many jobs. I know they should either be in regular education classes and I should be providing them accommodations and modifications or they should be working on their GEDs but still I show up every day. Feeling like you are part of the problem is not a good feeling to have.

Teachers don’t do the job because they think they will get rich, but is it unreasonable for them to want to be able to pay their bills, help their children out and be prepared if an emergency should come up.

Teachers don’t do the job because they get the summers off. The sad fact is many teachers have to work second jobs over the summer to make ends meet; they also have to take classes and workshops, work on certifications and find ways to improve their crafts. Furthermore technically teachers don’t get paid over the summer, they are unemployed.

Teachers don’t do the job just so they can say they are happy to have a job. They do it because they want to make a difference. They do it because they care about children and that’s more important to them than all of the other things they have to go through combined.

In case you were wondering about what my “but” from the beginning was , its life shouldn’t just be about being happy to have a job

How Teachers Feel
I may be biased but I think teaching is the most important job in the world, after all what is more important than our children and preparing them to be successful. If you have read my editorials you know I am frustrated with the state of education but as I have learned over the last week I am not the only one. Teachers and staff members all over the district have come to me and voiced their concerns.

If you don’t believe me just read; here is how a few other teachers feel.

I read your letter in yesterday's paper and applaud you for writing it! I am not a teacher, but as a support staff person, I have watched with sadness the frustration our teachers feel as they try to teach. This, of course, is an elementary school, but the discipline-related problems that these education professionals cope with every day boggle my mind. Parents are not held accountable for much at all, and the lack of parental direction and skill is certainly evident in the behaviors of some of our students.

Couple that with the next new hoop teachers have to jump through, and they spend a great deal of their valuable time testing, evaluating, documenting the evaluation or handling a behavior problem! I wish y'all could just do what you love: teach! Media Specialist, elementary school

Chris - Kudos to you for your editorial...I may have to respond to the paper. My favorite (well LEAST fav. since we live it everyday) is the hours of data and the subsequent death of creativity and flexibility.

I am eagerly awaiting my "visit" from the admin team and their "coaches" for the poster count, while still adding a little "Cindy" to the mix for my kids. (My kids never ever look at the standards board!) While my passion and desire to share my subject area has never faded, I often feel the dreads come upon me and that dark hovering cloud is shared by many of our "have-not" faculty.

You are SO RIGHT! We are more knowledgeable and I personally have attended lots of NEH seminars for the past 6 summers which have been amazing! I know my craft! I know how to analyze my kid's weaknesses. I am well traveled and me-myself-and-I have a lot to individually offer a kid. Any trained chimp can continually test, write an analysis sheet and retest!

In our county of the haves and have-nots, there's also the matter of facilities. Our school was built the same year as Forrest and the ratio of bathrooms to people is ridiculous! I teach in a portable (and believe me, I love it and I'm being sincere), but since the beginning of school, no less than 20 floor tiles are gone and it's a lovely looking plywood "throw rug!" It was an eye-opener to my parents at Open House, but just as the kids don't notice standards or agendas or CHAMPS shout-outs, I don't even think they have noticed the rug-wannabe!

Anyway a lengthy epistle but I just wanted to THANK YOU for so eloquently representing the hardest working profession in the world. In the end, we are all energizer bunnies, or those punch bags we had when we were kids that keep returning for another punch! High school English Teacher

I couldn't agree with you more. I have been saying the same thing for 5 years. It is a shame, people choose to be at our kind of schools for the right reasons, help the kids, make a difference, and they just keep dumping on us. High school head football coach

Thank you for writing about your experiences as a Duval County teacher. I agree with EVERYTHING you said in today's paper.

I am drowning in data! I teach gr 6-8 and give PMAs, formerly summatives, formerly formatives. The 8th gr PMA had 2 errors in the 8 questions that were on it. I will give the personality/learning styles survey (to 88 kids), FCAT, MAP tests, benchmarks and end-of-course exams in addition to the tests that relate to what is taught in my room.

The data collected is similar to what I can deduce about my students by working with them on a daily basis. I am playing the game required to earn any bonus that might (or might not) be out there since I am at the top of the pay scale (for 8 years now) and do not receive additional compensation.

My national board money that enticed me to be certified has been removed, then replaced, and the mentoring bonus has been dropped completely (but I am still expected to mentor). At one time, the additional money earned through board certification was included in my retirement pay. That was also stopped.

I know that I am preaching to the choir. I just wanted you to know that you are not alone- your sentiments are shared of the teachers I know.

So, a million thanks for not only the job you do but also for taking the time to represent those of us who are on the same (sinking) boat as you
Middle School teacher

I taught math at a neighborhood high school from 1984-2007. I have seen you around the school during my years there and probably said hello but, as with many schools, you don't really get to know your fellow faculty members very well unless they are in your department or have a room near you.

Ed White, like many schools, has undergone a transformation through the years. It is a much different school now than when I started and I am sure since you started. This is due to many factors, not the least of which is the FCAT and all the paranoia that surrounds it.

I have read your frequent opinion pieces in the T-U and was always impressed as to how you almost always "hit the nail on the head" with your assessments. It must have taken a lot of courage for you to write what you have. It takes guts to speak up in the faculty lounge or a faculty meeting, much less the newspaper.

I burst out laughing today upon reading that the word walls and bulletin boards at Ribault must be out of this world. Those were pet peeves of mine, also.

Making a student take Algebra II when all he wants to do is drive a truck also got my blood boiling (as it did for many of the math teachers).

I am sure your hours are spent (as you stated) entering data in your computer on every student to find his strengths and weaknesses and personalizing daily lessons and tests with that information. A very simple task if there were 48 hours in a day.

Possibly one day the county and the school will try to get a few more AP students enrolled in classes. Maybe they can just sign up the whole student body. Then we can all be happy in that "success".

All in all, keep up the good work. There are a lot of people who agree with your thoughts.
Retired high school math teacher

I just had to let you know that I read your article and LOVED it! Thank you so much for having the wisdom, spirit, heart, and courage to express the REALITY that teachers and students are faced with. YOU ROCK! :) High school English Teacher

You teach with a good buddy of mine! I'm writing because I just got through reading your article. It was sent by my principal, of which I usually delete. We get about 3 of these emails each day but for some reason, I decided to check out the titles and yours struck me as a potential interesting read...... And it was!!!!

I'd like to thank you for writing it. You truly have captured what teaching is like in our current times!

I only wish more eyes could see this article. Please keep writing about what it’s truly like.... I'll keep reading! Thanks again, High school science teacher

Hello Chris, I am a Kindergarten teacher with Duval Co. Just returned from trip to Kentucky and found your article waiting for me to read. AMEN to all you said. I would say the majority of teachers in Duval Co. feel this way. Elementary school teacher

These are a few of the e-mails I have received but I have also heard about the editorials being passed out at meetings, and being put up in mail rooms and next to sign in sheets. The only criticism I have heard is from those not in classrooms.

I tell every teacher who writes me the same thing. I am glad you now know you are not in this alone, so many teachers feel your frustration and angst, sadly however unless the school board wakes up, then the knowledge that we are not alone may be all that we get.

Let me ask you a few questions.
Did you know we have more former lawyers and consultants on our school board than former teachers and of the few teachers we do have, none have taught in over ten years, and they left teaching to become lawyers? Would you trust a lawyer to take care of your medical needs, and who would you prefer if you were sick a doctor who is currently practicing or one who hasn’t practiced in more than a decade? Friends these are some serious questions and I may have a few answers or you.

I wasn’t surprised that Stan Jordan of the school board recently resigned to run for Jim Kings vacant Florida House of Representatives seat. It has long seemed to me that our school board is just a stepping-stone for politicians on their way up or their way down, I just thought Mr. Jordan was on his way down.

No disrespect meant to the current school board, but it both astounds and confuses me that the fate of our children is left up to a popularity contest, especially because those currently on the board have so little direct experience working with today’s child or in a classroom and since so many of their decisions seemed designed to benefit just a few children at the expense of many, that and the fact the plans and policies they implement generally serve to confound and overwhelm the classroom teacher.

Let’s start with Stan Jordan who jumped ship at the first available opportunity. He has a tremendous amount of experience in the education system; it’s just too bad that the vast majority of it is decades old. I currently teach at the high school I went to. Like Mr. Cotter I returned to make a difference with the children growing up in the same neighborhoods I did and I can tell you for a fact that many of the kids that roam the same halls now that I did then are very different. Many lack any impulse control, they see, they want, they do and all without regard of the consequences, if there are any that is. More than a few also have a sense of entitlement, they feel like the world owes them and they act like they have never heard the word no. Sure back in my day we had cutups, class clowns and bullies but we rarely had the out and out disrespect and loathing for teachers that you now see from too many students.

Along with Stan Jordan, Nancy Broner, W.C. Gentry and Brenda Priestly Jackson were all teachers though the latter two left teaching to become lawyers. The rest of the board consists of Betty Burney, Vicky Drake and Tommy Hazouri none who have ever taught though Mr. Hazouri mentions in his bio that his wife and son are teachers. I guess that means if I had two relatives that were heart doctors I could perform just about any procedure. Betty Burney and Tommy Hazouri also run consulting businesses presumably in their spare time. Vicki Drake you ask, what’s her experience, well it consists of having a children and serving in the PTA and even though her kids didn’t attend an inner city or neighborhood school to me this makes her the most qualified member of the board.

According to their biographies at the Duval County School Board web site, the board has a wide variety of experiences. Unfortunately none of their experiences consist of teaching in a modern classroom.

In college I learned about Plato’s Metaphor of the Cave. Plato imagined a group of people who lived chained in a cave all of their lives, facing nothing but a blank wall. They would watch shadows projected on the wall by things passing in front of a fire behind them and this is all that they knew. Plato reasoned that to the people the shadows were as close as they came to seeing reality. If one was freed he might recognize that his perceception of reality was wrong. If he went back to the others and told them what he had seen they would most likely think he was fool, because they only knew what they knew.

This is how I imagine the school board is; accept its teachers and students forced to endure their skewed version of reality where teachers are supposed to work twelve-hour days and all students go to college.

Plato was trying to say that people only know what they know, and since I know this I think I can safely say our school board doesn’t know education.

If they did they wouldn’t have set up and propagated a two-tiered education system that benefits the most academically gifted students in the district at the expense of the rest of children. If they knew education they would realize that over burdening teachers with one task after another isn’t the way to get the best out of teachers. If they new education they would see the value of teaching trades and skills to students more interested in them than attending college..

They may point to the state and say that many of these changes are mandated by them, to which I would reply this is the same state government that for years funded north Florida’s children considerably less than children in south Florida as if they were more important and has deemed education so unimportant that they have chosen to fund it less than every other state in the union and have done so for quite some time. You would think they would have pumped some more money into the system just so people could no longer say Florida is dead last in spending on children, but they haven’t. How is that not embarrassing?

They may say they work closely with teachers when making decisions but that would be disingenuous. When asked about changing the high school schedule, overwhelmingly teachers wanted to return to the six classes, fifty minutes a day model. This option was even offered; instead we were force to choose from bad or worse. A couple years ago we were asked to vote on what the new web address would be and told what we voted for would be implemented. When we returned from Christmas break we discovered that the powers-that-be had decided on something completely different. I also don’t know of any teacher who thinks a word wall, posting standards and having students work in groups for just about everything has improved education. Collaboration is them asking us what we think and then them doing whatever they read in a journal somewhere.

I am very pro teacher; I sincerely believe that the better they are the better they will be for the kids. That if teachers have the resources they need, including time, then we will be better for kids. That is instead of over burdening us let us be creative and flexible then education would improve.

Our school board which is filled with lawyers and consultants, politicians on the way up and the way down, and who have a wide variety of experiences have no idea what it is like to be in a modern school. They don’t see the angst, confusion and frustration on teacher’s faces. They don’t have to deal with that one or two children that hijack classes daily and make learning difficult for so many others. They aren’t forced on a track like many of our children are that won’t benefit them.

It’s time the school board got out of the cave and into the classroom, because right now their reality isn’t even close to how things truly are.

Principals office
I am well into my adult life and I have been in the school system for ten years now. But despite this I revert back to a nervous tenth grader whenever I hear my name called over the intercom to report to the principal’s office. My palms start to sweat, my throat closes up, and I start to frantically wonder what I have done and what’s going to happen. This time I knew what I had done, I just didn’t know what was going to happen.

On Monday September 20th the Times union printed and editorial that I wrote titled, Common sense would cure most problems in education, my premise being the school system currently lacks it. As I walked with my head down to my principal’s office, I thought to myself with this one I must have really hit a nerve, but I didn’t realize how right I was till later.

I write fairly regularly, mostly about how I think Duval County through the creation of the magnet school programs has created a two tiered education system which steals from the have not’s to give to the haves, how I think we need a one cent sales tax to benefit education and children’s issues, and I also write about a whole host of special education issues make that travesties, to which I receive the occasional, nice piece, response from my peers or random people in the community. This time however things were different.

Since I wrote the article which talked about many of the nonsensical things that the state and district have teachers doing to improve education most of which don’t impact or have anything to do with education, teacher after teacher at my school has stopped me, including teachers I wasn’t sure even knew my name. Teachers not at my school also found me through the DCPS web-mail system, on Facebook and I even received one letter U.S. mail, and they all said the same thing. Thank you for saying what we are all thinking.

The state has been in Ribault for years, I can just imagine how elaborate their bulletin boards and word walls must be, but you know what, it hasn’t made a difference and nor will things like that make a difference at my school or any school. What does make a difference, is teachers being able to do their jobs, something they can do less and less as they are forced to do one superfluous and arduous task after another. Hours upon hours of entering data, creating bulletin boards, guessing what they should teach for the f-cat, making sure a million ducks are in a row which have nothing to do with little Suzy and Johnny are now the new mantras in education. The new education landscape have seen learning schedules replace flexibility, mandated curriculums replace creativity, and a love of one’s job replaced by a sense of dread for many of today’s teacher. This despite the fact that today’s teachers are better trained and more knowledgeable and just as dedicated as any time in history.

A while back the powers that be decided it was okay to socially promote children who were borderline or who weren’t on grade level. They thought kids that failed were more likely to drop out and lagging graduation numbers made us look bad as a county, but the truth is we did them and ourselves no favors, we exacerbated the problem. Then around the same time we stopped holding children accountable for their behavior and if you want proof of this walk down the hallway of any neighborhood school in between classes or just look on page 32 of my teacher hand book where it states, Academic grades will be based on student performance. Points may not be deducted for classroom conduct, participation or attendance. That’s right behavior no longer matters.

As I stated in the original piece you want things to improve in education, bring discipline back to the classroom and give teachers the resources they need and stop over loading them with unnecessary tasks. Move the children who don’t know how to behave to more restrictive environments and get the children who need help, the help, and that doesn’t mean we should cross our fingers and hope they show up to after school tutoring, make it mandatory. We should then start carrying about all our children not just the ones that go to magnet schools. Let’s teach trades and skills to the students more interested in them than in college, and let’s have a realistic curriculum that will enable children to thrive in society, instead of forcing them to take classes they will never need or use. We do those things and I believe the state of affairs can’t help but improve. If we don’t we can expect more of the same.

As a society we have to be sick and tired of seeing so many students fall through the cracks and I know personally I am tired of seeing so many of my colleagues go home incredibly frustrated or with tears in their eyes after being assigned more tasks than are possible to do.

So what happened when I went to the principal’s office; well we had a polite, respectful conversation as two colleagues and I greatly appreciated it. I wasn’t told not to write any more or despite my criticism of the state of education that my job was not in jeopardy. I however was asked to not put the school I teach at anymore with my name; the concern was that anybody reading my pieces might think I represented the whole school. There were a few other disagreements with what I wrote but overall I thought the meeting was very fair. Which I guess brings me to this.

The truth is I don’t represent my school. I am just one person, a person who happens to work at a neighborhood school not a magnet school, just one person who listens to his colleagues and hears about their fears and frustrations, just one person who has firsthand knowledge and experience with the problems facing both the modern teacher and is nearly overwhelmed by them, but in the end I am just one person.

And just so we are clear, it’s my opinion that if your son or daughter doesn’t go to a magnet school, the system doesn’t care about them as much. If your son or daughter is in ESE there is at least a fair chance they aren’t getting the services they need. If we return discipline to the classroom and give teachers the resources they need to teach education will improve. It’s time we started providing for all children not just those on a university track, and finally it’s my opinion the school board and state department of education are making things worse not better. Those are my opinions, though and especially after last week I don’t think I am alone in them.

Five Years
Did you know that more than half of all teachers in Duval County have less than five years experience; as a profession here in Jacksonville, teachers have a considerably high turnover rate. As I head back to school where I will invariably meet all the first years I can't help but think about all the things they are going to go through, them and the first year teacher who once got in trouble for duct taping one of her students to a chair a couple years back.

That's right two years ago we had a first year teacher suspended for ten days for duct-taping a student to a desk. If you don't remember the first year duct-taped a student to his chair and then gagged him. The article in the Times Union reported that the first year teacher warned the student to stop talking during class and when he wouldn't, first taped his leg to his desk, then taped his hands to his head and finally covered his mouth. On the surface this sounds absurd, but sadly I can see how this might take place or at least something with this year's new crop of teachers.

How you ask? How does a teacher go from giving a warning right to duct-taping a kid to a desk, well let me tell you.

The first year teacher shows up bright eyed and filled with optimism, ready to change the world, and this is an incredible feeling to have, though it is fleeting as many first year teachers have to go into survival mode. They try all sorts of methods to get the children to take care of their responsibilities, which are simple enough, come to class, listen and learn. At first many come in as a strict disciplinarian, as this is the standard advice given to first year teachers. Come in tough and then you can ease up as the year progresses. If this fails with some students, the first year teacher often reverts to being a social worker, trying to figure out why they act the way they do and tries to help solve their problems but with some students they try to become their friend, figuring if they were friends, the students would treat them better, that's treat them with a modicum dignity and respect. They do all this because it takes different strategies to get through to different students.

And for the most part these strategies are successful, as ninety percent of all students want to be there, they want to learn, or at worse are followers, which means if their ring leader isn't there they fall in line with the children who do want to learn. After a while it's just that ten percent of students that no matter what they try continue to cause them problems.

They talk to their mentors, as every first year teacher is assigned one, their colleagues and department heads as well. They ask what they can do to get these last few students in line. The first year teacher laments when the unruly students are absent, "it's dreamy, I can actually teach". They veterans look at the rookies with sympathetic eyes but they also have problems of their own. Just survive the first year; we tell them, it gets better. But how do I get through to them they ask, we shrug our shoulders and suggest, try and get the parents involved maybe they can help somehow, but in our hearts we know they are fighting an unwinnable battle with some students.

So they call the parents trying to set up parent teacher conferences, to discuss the child's performance both academically and behaviorally, because often-poor performances in these areas go hand in hand. Some of the parents can't be bothered figuring it was the teacher’s problem once the child came to school, others report having the same difficulties at home where they to are at a loss. The two parties might get together and try a few interventions and some students might actually turn it around, but again some students don't.

Backed into a corner the first year teacher writes the student up, only to find them back in class before the period is over or at best the next day and angry that they were written up, the problem begins to worsen. If the child received no meaningful consequences for their behavior and lets face it a warning and a “please don’t do it again” by an administrator often doesn’t cut it their maladaptive behavior will continue.

The teacher then writes the child up again and again the child is back in class the next day, except this time the teacher is paid a visit by an administrator or called to the office. Why can't you control this child, they are asked? They explain all that they have done and how none of it has worked. The first year teacher is then told, that referrals are only to be written for the most extreme circumstances and then only after every alternative has been exhausted. Most likely they aren't given any new alternatives as they slump their shoulders and heads back to the classrooms.

But now it's go time, in the mind of the student, because they have been written up twice if not more times and received no meaningful consequences for their actions. They feel invincible, instead of just being disruptive, now they are defiant and disrespectful too. Most first year teachers are at their wits end, in college they talk about the triple D, defiant, disrespectful and disruptive, student but until you are in a classroom with one, you can't be truly prepared. The first year teacher doesn't know what to do, they have done everything they can think of, they have used what they learned in college, asked their colleagues for advice, tried to get the parents involved and then finally written the unruly child up only to see them not disciplined and quickly returned to their room, they are lost, they see the duct-tape on the desk and…

Like I said I can't condone and I definitely wouldn't suggest duct taping a student to a desk and then gagging them, though I can empathize with her and empathize with what a first year teacher goes through. Often they take the first job offered to them, and the more challenging schools usually have the most openings. They are given mountains of extra paperwork to review as they learn the schools and districts policies and procedures and then they are required to either start an incredibly time consuming teacher induction program (TIP) or an alternative certification program. They often have no ideal what questions they should ask and most likely spend half the year if not longer waiting for help that never comes, I know I did.

I wonder what would happen if we gave our first year teachers a better chance for success, if we didn't place many of them in the toughest schools, or load up their classes like they were ten year veterans? What would happen if we didn't encumber them with lots of extra paperwork or force them to go to workshop after workshop or take class after class? I imagine we wouldn't have the first year turn over that we have, well with those teachers that make it through a first year that is, and I bet we wouldn't have any duct-tape discipline episodes either.

The first year of teaching is like being thrown to the wol… err, um, the first year of teaching, even if you have a teaching degree (all theory) and have interned (pretty much the same as being a teachers assistant) is the equivalent of having never swam and being thrown into the deep end of a pool, a lot of people, a lot of very good people don't make it out.

Don't worry though new teachers, if you make it through the first year it gets better, not much easier but definitely better.

Where’s the Paper
I didn’t really have any free time at school the other day. I have to make sure my word wall is just perfect and my lesson plans mention what my mini-lesson of the day is and about sixty other hoops I have to jump through daily because I work at a turn around school, i.e. poor and mostly minority, that really don’t have a lot to do with my job.

This particular day I was also going to have to stay late and not by choice. You see several times a year the principal can call after school staff meetings, Now why we can’t have them during our common planning periods, which thanks to the new schedule for high school students, we all have at the end of the day is beyond me, but as people are to fond of saying now days, at least I have a job, as if that knowledge is supposed to make everything acceptable.

So putting down my ad infinite list of things to do, I headed to the library. I thought I would see what was going on in the world before I went to another meeting that quite frankly because I teach special education wouldn’t, after the first five minutes, have anything to do with me.

I couldn’t find the paper, it wasn’t in its normal spot, but since it was still very early in the year I just assumed we must have a new system for storing it. I thought some big wig in Tallahassee must have had a flash of inspiration, and in order to save education it had to be filed in some new way. The reason I thought his is they been having flashes of inspiration about everything else, accept the most obvious things, returning discipline back to the classroom and giving teachers the resources they need to teach, but I digress.

After looking for it for a bit I asked our librarian where it was and she informed me that the school wouldn’t be getting the newspaper this year, she said, it wasn’t in the budget. I did a double take I thought she was joking, no really where’s it at, I asked, I have to see what that goofball Marmaduke is up to.

Chris, she said with a shrug of her shoulders, no we really aren’t getting one this year, it’s really not in the budget. How much could it cost, was my next question, to which she replied, for the year probably less than two hundred dollars. My head spinning I said okay, smiled at her and headed to the meeting, the word wow was echoing around in my head.

Friends do you know what the dirtiest word in the English language is? Well it doesn’t start with an F, it’s now what a female dog in heat is or someone who is born out of wedlock may be called, nor it is a dozen other words you could quickly think, no friends it’s the word “tax”.

The thing is we need to pay taxes and if we don’t we leave will leave the state of man and head back to a time when our less enlightened ancestors hung from tress and delighted in throwing things the body produced at each other.

Taxes allow the government to do collectively, what we can’t do individually. They allow police to be on our streets, teachers in our children’s classrooms, and for the mail to be delivered. Taxes ensure our meat is safe, we have fireworks during the forth of July, our armed forces are outfitted and a million, million other things.

I understand we are frustrated with our governments on all levels because the stories of mismanagement and waste our legendary. We don’t want to see fat cats and bankers bailed out, we don’t want to see our neighbors who do the wrong thing or companies that didn’t adequately plan be rewarded while we at the same time consider what bill we should get behind on and other ways we can make our ends meet.

My fist year of teaching my contract was for 26,600 dollars and by that Christmas I had four thousand dollars in the bank. This year, ten years later I will be making a few pennies over forty and I am literally paycheck to paycheck living in fear of a blown tire, or some other type of emergency, and with all that being said I think we need to pay more taxes.

What good does it do to live in a state and city with some of the lowest taxes if our community's going to pot? We need to engage in a cost/benefit analysis and realize we've past the point of "diminishing returns" on lowering taxes.

Longer lines and fewer places to go at the DMV, less police on our strets, children going unattended, less services for the elderly who have spent a life time paying their dues and litter on or streets and in our parks, and a million, million other bad things is what we are heading for.

Friends the city we want to live in is not going to magiacly appear, it’s going to take sacrifice on all our parts, and if we choose not to sacrifice then we will definitly live in the city we deserve.

I happen to think we should raise our sales tax by one cent, following the lead of several south Florida communities that have volunteered to do so and then have that money dedictaed to education and childrens issues. I am not proposing we just throw money at the problem, but it has to be a source of emabarasment that florida is fiftith out of fifty on spending on education. We have to be at least a little ashamed that whenever there is a crisis, instead of closng loopholes for big bussiensses and the rich they cut childrens and other social services. Friends the bottled water industry and people that own two or more homes do not need tax breaks, but my school needs a daily paper.

We need to urge our represenatives to put a one cent sales tax on the ballot, and then if it passes we need to let them know that they will be held accounatble for every single penny. That nothing is to be wasted. That we as citizens will not accept any more loopholes for friends and big bussineeses that contribute to their relection campaigns. That hiring buddies as aids or consultants and payong them top dollar will be met with serious consequences. We need to let our elected officials no that enough is enough, if we can do this, this one cent sales tax will be returned to us many times over.

Beter cared for children will make better citizens, better schools will create better bussinesses, a well educated society will produce benefit after benefit. We need to be proactive not reactive and the sad truth is as a society we sit back and wait for the problems to get bad and then try and put band aids on them, it wasn’t by chance that Jacksonville became the murder capital of Florida and has a half dozen failing high schools. It was through inaction and apathy.

And that’s why we are living in the city we deserve, though I happen to think we deserve better.

Suspension Centers
As the school year begins I think it’s time we revisited the suspension centers that the school board created last year and just so you know that as things presently are I think this is a terrible idea and the school board should be embarrassed for coming up with and implementing it.

To be fair, if we disregard the fact that being suspended is supposed to be a punishment, suspension centers in a vacuum doesn’t sound to bad. To me it’s kind of like getting the undercoating when you buy a new car. If you have lots of money and nothing else going on, then sure why not splurge. However, that’s not how things are in Duval County. The reality is we have very few resources and lots of serious problems. This means having suspension centers is like complimenting Nero’s fiddle playing while Rome burned to the ground. Sure the music might sound delightful but the city was experiencing a few more pressing matters at the time.

As a teacher I am constantly learning, trying to pick up bits of information or techniques that will help me in my classes. Last spring I learned something very important. I learned never to be eating or drinking when I read articles about our school district as I almost choked to death when I saw how much was budgeted for the four suspension centers that can at one time hold a maximum of 150 students. By the way that’s a number they didn’t come anywhere close to having, and most like never will. If they were run by nonprofits and didn’t cost the tax payer anything I might be okay with it but they aren’t, you see the suspension centers have a two million dollar budget.

Suspension centers are a new program designed to keep students when they are suspended off the street. This way they won’t fall behind in their classes and they won’t get in trouble, a pretty good idea right. Here is another idea, instead of asking them to go to a suspension center where they won’t have their class work anyway, DON’T SUSPEND THEM! What is the difference between keeping them in school and hoping they attend a voluntary and yes they are voluntary, suspension center? I’ll tell you what it is, its two million dollars.

At first I was flabbergasted but as soon as I stopped choking I knew I shouldn’t have been that surprised. You see this kind of misallocation of resources for our district this is pretty typical.
My friends sometimes plead with me not to write about educational issues. They worry that I may lose my job or there may be consequences for me being critical. Which I reply, criticism of the process should be encouraged. It can expose inequalities and the need for change, besides we should never fear the truth. And the sad, simple truth is suspension centers are an unnecessary luxury.

Friends two million dollars could pay for about 20 new teachers, or social workers over two years, or hundreds and hundreds of after school tutors and extended day workers or some combination thereof. These new employees would be in the position to affect thousands of children daily not just the 150 suspension centers would serve if they were at peak capacity. What do you think will make a bigger difference on education or in our community: Voluntary suspension centers that can be attended only by a few students or the options above?

Often kids act out because they don’t understand or fall behind on in their subjects. What would happen if we had smaller classes or intensive remediation for struggling students? Something we could have more of if we could hire new teachers?

Often kids act out because they are having troubles at home. What would happen if we hired social workers who could follow up on our districts troubled children and provide services and or referrals to other agencies?

Often kids act out because they run with the wrong crowd. What would happen if we had more after school programs where kids could be safe and cared for, and where they could get help with their academics?

Often kids act out because they are bored. What would happen if we had more classes they were interested in, what if we brought more art, music and vocational classes back to the schools and made attendance in these classes dependent on behavior?

Heck, I think the money would be better spent if we just gave it away. Why don’t we give it to the students who attend struggling schools and have worked hard and have done the right thing, perhaps the most underserved group in the county? They deserve to have the money spent on them so much more than the children who are constantly in trouble. Let’s divide the money up to the F schools and give two thousand dollar scholarships to a thousand needy, deserving students. This may even prove to be an incentive for the often suspended student.

The sad fact is we don’t know what would happen if we took the suspension center money and instituted any those programs, though I think we could guess if they would be more meaningful or not. The thing is we do know what happened at the suspension centers last year. They weren’t attended and we spent lots of money.

The law of parsimony says the simpler of two competing theories is to be preferred. Which theory do you think is simpler, let’s put discipline back in our schools and give students and teachers the resources they need to be successful or lets create voluntary suspension centers that students need to find their own way to, that cost an exorbitant amount of money and serve only a few children.

I grew up in Jacksonville and I attended the school I teach at now, though when I went there it was safe to walk in the halls, adults were treated with respect and students learned the basic skills they needed for life. I pretty much lived in the same neighborhood I do now and when growing up I could jog my streets safely at night and I if I forgot to lock my car door it didn’t matter. Years ago in Jacksonville reading about a young person committing or being the victim of a crime was an exception not an everyday occurrence, and all of these things have their roots in education.

It makes me sad when I see the county give lip service to special education students sacrificing the future of these children, because they don’t know what to do with them. It hurts me when I see resources stolen from the have not’s to set up magnet programs for the haves. It frustrates me when the district tries to fit all children into one go to college category whether they want to or are prepared to, and it angers me, when I see precious resources allocated to things like suspension centers, especially since Rome is burning down around us.

I have to believe if the people of Jacksonville knew and thought about these things they would care, I also want to believe the school board is capable of doing a good job and they just haven’t shown us (more evidence is that graduation rates and dropout rates are some of the lowest and highest respectively in the state) yet.

If I get out of teaching I think maybe me and a couple buddies will start a suspension center, it sounds like pretty lucrative and easy work, if you can get it, but that’s another story all together.

Two tiered
It’s a sad state of affairs here in many of Jacksonville’s schools. You see the Duval County School Board has created a two tiered education system, children that go to the magnet schools are valued and nurtured, children that go to the neighborhood schools are neglected and treated like back of the bus citizens, and I can prove it.

A little girl on the first day of school asked where the bike racks were. Good question I thought but unfortunately I didn’t know. She then explained how she was now outside the bussing limit and would have to ride her bike to school. I thought that was a lot of information for her to give me, but I just imagined she was telling me the same thing her parents had told her. As she walked away I thought to myself even if she were able to catch a bus, since she went to a neighborhood school, the district would insist she sat at the back of it.

A friend of mines son started their freshmen year at the Frank Peterson Academy, parents might know it better as the Westside skill center, though it has come a long way from those days. Back then you went to one of the neighborhood schools for part o the day and then there to learn a skill. Now it is an incredibly exclusive magnet school, that like Douglas Anderson, Paxon and Stanton they only accepts a few of the counties more elite students.

She was almost giddy when she told me about the parent orientation she went to. Chris none of the boys had their pants around their ankles and they all said yes sir and no sir, she started. They really seemed to want to be there. I looked at her a little confused. Hey I said a bit startled by her demeanor, I thought you were against the two tier system that the magnet schools had created, that you thought they were ruining education and making things unfair, that the district was sacrificing the needs of the many for the benefit of a few.

She looked at me and smiled, I definitely was and I will be again once my son graduates. I shook my head and smiled, I really couldn’t be mad at her for this change of thought; if I had a son or daughter I would want what was best for them as well, and lets face it here in Duval County the magnet schools are coddled and nurtured and the neighborhood schools are left scratching for crum.

It’s not that neighborhood schools don’t have competent teachers and administrators, on the contrary, I would put the staff at my “D” school up against any staff at any magnet school; furthermore it’s not that the neighborhood schools don’t have numerous capable students that would do well anywhere, the problem is that the deck is stacked against both the teachers and students who attend the neighborhood school.

Students at the high school magnet schools get an extra forty-five minutes of instruction. Students at the neighborhood schools are kicked to the curb at 1:45. Who do you think needs the additional instruction time, the cream of the crop students or those who often struggle with desire and ability? Furthermore at the neighborhood schools those staying for clubs and sports are told to wander the streets unsupervised till 2:30 when they can come back, though that policy is still being thought out, the last five months since they announced the switch in schedules apparently wasn’t enough time.

To save money the school board changed the distance in which students will be eligible to catch school busses from one and a half miles to two miles, roughly the difference from a twenty minute walk to a half hour walk, not to bad unless the weather is terrible or it is dark outside, but who do you think this affects the most. Its students that attend neighborhood schools that’s who, because the vast majority of students who attend magnet schools live more than two miles away from them and are thus eligible to ride school busses. Again neighborhood school attendees are again asked to take on the chin or their magnet school counterparts.

The students at the magnet schools, supposedly the districts most capable also receive a significant greater amount of attention. The student/teacher ratio of the magnet schools last year according to Local School was 17.3 to one, where the ratio at the neighborhood schools was 19.4 to one. It gets even worse if I compute the total number of students because the neighborhood schools tend to be a little bigger.*

Furthermore lots of neighborhood schools have ESE populations which in theory, because students in exceptional education typically have smaller class (or are at least supposed to) should drive down there numbers but still their class sizes are about twenty percent higher than the magnet schools. How is it fair that supposedly the best students, the most capable students, get more attention than the students who may just be marginally interested in school, have academic deficits or just need a little more help? Which makes more sense, 17 students in an A.P. class or 18 in a trainably mentally handicapped class, because that’s how big some of those classes are here at my school?

Students at the magnet schools have curriculums tailor made for them; something that is completely lacking at the one size fits all neighborhood schools. Perhaps if there were more skills and arts offered at the neighborhood schools, students would be more interested in attending and doing well? Interested and engaged students are also less likely to be discipline problems.

Heck, even the start times of the two sets of schools are unfair. The four magnet schools all have start times of 8:25; where the neighborhood schools have starts time of 7:30. Experts for years have said that the start times for high schools is too early and that these growing boys and girls are often sleep deprived. Why does one group get more sleep than the other?

Students who attend the magnet schools must maintain a 2.0 or they are gone. Any discipline problems and they are gone. The neighborhood schools on the other hand have an obligation to try and educate everybody who walks through their doors, regardless of grades or behavior problems. We have created a two-tiered system here in Jacksonville, where we give the most capable students the most resources, and then wonder why the other students don’t do as well.

If things were working at all the schools, the issue of magnet schools wouldn’t be one at all, but sadly they are not. To many students who are either behind, unmotivated or even lacking direction are falling through the cracks, the cracks created by the creation of the magnet school program

You ever wonder why the surrounding counties don’t have any failing high schools, do you ever wonder if the reason is they don’t have any magnet schools, I know I do. What has to happen for people to wake up and realize just how unfair our system has become? How many more children must be let behind.

* I omitted Ribault and their 13.4 to one ration from my computations. Ribault is the school currently in most danger of being taken over by the state, it also happens to roughly be in the same neighborhood of Paxon and Stanton.

My personal Quest for Fire
I went on a quest or fire the other day, and by fire I mean books. Like the cavemen in the movie I went through several trials and tribulations. This is my second year teaching a V.E. science class at Ed White high school and the books I used last year were a little bit lacking. The books talked about an exciting new technology called laser disc players and explained what would happen if you dropped a penny from one of the World Trade Center towers along with many other things that to say they were outdated would be kind. This year because I was going to have many of the same students again, I thought they might appreciate something a little different.

A little note, at the end of last year I was made to order books, that’s right made. Experience had taught me it is an exercise in futility to order books as nothing I had ordered the previous two years had ever arrived. I wasn’t surprised in the least when I had no new books waiting for me this year.

Last year I was told just to go find some books and after searching in dusty closets and closed bathrooms I was able to find a class set of books that were brand new, brand new in 1994 that is. Luckily all I needed to find was a class set. That’s because my students, though many are capable, aren’t issued books. This year I was determined that things would be different.

My second day back I went to my immediate supervisor and asked if I could get some new books, the same books that regular education students would use, they sent me to another administrator who echoed last year’s sentiment, to just go find some books. I told them my reservations about this and they shrugged their shoulders and sent me to a third administrator. When I told this third administrator what I needed they looked at me like I had confused them and asked me to come back that afternoon or maybe Thursday. In their defense they were very busy and I may not have explained myself adequately.

Thursday, I sighed to myself as I left, that doesn’t really give me a whole lot of time to get ready as my kids were due to arrive that Monday.

With my shoulders sunk I headed back to my room. On the way a regular education colleague asked what was wrong. I told her my dilemma and then she said the most amazing thing. You need books, she started, what do you need books for? And mind you this will be our forth year working together and she knows full well what I teach.

I was amazed, no shocked, and I thought to myself you have no idea what I do, do you? I considered giving her, the what for, but then it donned on me, maybe nobody knows what I am doing. Maybe I shouldn’t be disappointed with my administration for putting specific learning disabled, emotionally handicapped and educable mentally handicapped, with a wide range of academic abilities all in the same class, or having 9th-12th graders in the same class, or in the past having to teach multiple preps (subjects) at the same time.

Maybe I shouldn’t be frustrated by the district when they change their rules or procedures during the middle of the year. Look at me funny when I say it is nearly impossible to do all the extra non-teaching things they want me to do and still be able to teach my class, well effectively that is, or tell me with smiles on their faces that the latest changes will be beneficial to the children when every fiber of my body screams the opposite.

Perhaps I should give the union a pass when I ask them how it is fair that special education teachers are expected to everything that our regular education counter parts are supposed to do, plus about a hundred more, and why we need to have multiple certifications, when regular education teachers only have to have one. I am a science teacher in a high school but have been told I need to get certified in k-6 (elementary school all subjects) and integrated middle school curriculum. When I asked them if they wanted me to get certified in science, they told me, nah that wasn’t necessary.

Why not give the state a pass I thought, when they require my colleagues teaching trainable mentally handicapped students to teach them water downed academic topics that they will never get and never use. Last year when I went to visit some of my old students, their teacher was explaining the different types of tissue that make up the body. He was teaching it to the same students the year before I had been trying to explain the nickel, the big hand on the clock and the color brown to. Later I asked him how they did and he just laughed as he walked away.

Shouldn’t I just put it out of my mind, that I am told that when writing Individual Education Plans (a massive document that all students receiving special education service receive), that I can be personally sued; after all they give me a power point presentation on how to write them a few years back. Maybe it shouldn’t matter to me that if you had three different teachers write the same students IEP you would get three totally different documents and teachers are in charge of designating how much funding students should receive the following year (we base funding on services received not services needed) and what their future teachers are required to teach them, whether they think it is necessary or applicable or not.

Maybe it’s time that I just accepted the fact that many numerous capable students will languish in special education classes and eventually leave with special diplomas that are basically worthless, instead of receiving the services, the small group instruction, the intensive remediation and the other things that they need that will enable some of them to graduate with a regular diploma, or at the very least better prepare them for the G.E.D. I have a student who used a McKay scholarship to attend a private school, there he is working on a regular diploma, and maybe I should stop wondering if why they can do it there, we can’t do it here.

I looked at my colleague who just asked why I would want books and before I could do all those things above, she said to me, Guerrieri, stop being a victim, just go down to the book room and get what you want. I looked at her a bit stunned and asked, is that allowed. Who cares, she replied back, if you need them go down and get them.

Within a few minutes I had a cart and was heading down. I was even given the go ahead by the last administrator I talked to, though what books I could take were limited, as they had to make sure the students who were actually issued books got theirs first. However, I didn’t mind, after all I was about to get a cart full of books that I was reasonably sure wouldn’t mention the exciting new technology of laser compact disc players.

I’ll work on the other stuff later.

The Law of Parsimony
I am a big believer in the law of parsimony, which is the principle that entities should not be multiplied needlessly; others however may prefer Ockham’s razor which is a rule in science that says the simplest of two or more competing theories is preferable and that an explanation for unknown phenomena should first be attempted in terms of what is already known but actually both of those are just fancy ways of saying that good old common sense should prevail, which is something sadly currently missing from our education system.

You want schools to do better, instead of reinventing the wheel and taking away what precious little time teachers have to make an impact by forcing them to tedious and unnecessary things, why don’t we try giving teachers the resources they need and then bring discipline back to the classroom, those two things alone should be worth an extra letter grade. Instead of doing those two things teachers are told we must have our standards posted on our walls, something in my nine years of teaching no child has ever taken a look at, and we must have our classrooms uniform, with our classroom libraries labeled and our parent teacher logs and lesson plans easily accessible.

I teach at a “turn around school” a fancy way of saying mostly minority and poor and since I teach at a turn around school I was told all these things and a nearly endless list more had to be done. I was also told that I could expect routine visits from state representatives of the department of education and if they weren’t, I would get dinged or hit and a note would be put in my permanent file, my evaluation could suffer and I could even possibly loose my job, I wasn’t the only one told this as the same thing was said to the entire faculty. Presumably this same message was give to dozens of other “ under performing” schools.

I was also told that during these walk abouts they really wouldn’t be interested to see how I was teaching or to judge it’s effectiveness, no they just wanted to make sure I had my getting on the computer procedures posted or student work displayed, not that either of those things makes the first bit of difference in learning.

Furthermore say goodbye to innovation and creativity, as the department of education seems hell bent on eliminating those two things. They are replacing them with learning schedules, lesson plans and agendas that can’t be deviated from. Soon they may replace teachers with VCR’s and one trained chimp to hit play, after all that’s all education will need with this one schedule fits all system they are attempting to jam don our throats.

There was a palpable since of fear and trepidation at my school this past week during pre-planning as they were told about change after change that the state was requiring. When talking to other teachers, “how are things going” was answered at best with, “it is what it is” or “it’s going” but more often with, “I am afraid about what’s going to happen during the upcoming year” or “can’t talk need to go spend three hours creating a bulletin board”. Planning for the kids was replaced with getting the fore mentioned bulletin boards ready and making sure our desks were arranged in the state mandated way.

I can see how it started, someone in Tallahassee after reading an obscure article on education, shortly followed by a light bulb going off over their head, said to themselves, “I know how we can fix education, If only teachers would all have had word walls all these years then our state of affairs would be so much better”. Next thing you know it is in a bill and teachers are spending hours creating one.

Furthermore, today’s teacher is already sometimes a counselor, parent, big brother or big sister, guardian, friend, disciplinarian and ass kicker, but now we also now have to add statistician to the list as we were told the state is going to want lots and lots of data as well, we were actually told that they love graphs. This way they can see how effective our teaching it, strangely I thought that was what the almost universally reviled and discredited F-CAT was for. The F-CAT is so unimportant that they initially decided to eliminate the F-CAT writes section this year because they couldn’t afford to hire people to grade it, however flush with stimulus cash it may be back on.

When did they spring most of the changes that need to occur on teachers? If you guessed the Thursday of preplanning you have guessed correctly. Giving us two days to set up our classroom and plan accordingly for the upcoming school year.

People don’t become teachers to get rich or even acknowledgement. In fact in recent years because we have summers off, are often home by three or four and the state developed a grading system that called some schools successes and others failures there has been a bit of backlash against teachers, that they are under performing and part of the problem but nothing could be farther from the truth. Most people have no idea how much unpaid over time teachers work or how much of their own resources they pump int their classrooms. Furthermore, teachers today are better trained, more capable and experts at doing more with less than at anytime in history.

The problems in education here in Florida started when the state government began to siphon off money intended for education to give tax breaks to big businesses and people that owned second homes, and when they created a test, the F-CAT, which has become a pox on the whole education system. These things were further exacerbated here in Jacksonville with the creation of magnet schools which have created a two tiered education system, continuing, if you sprinkle in the fact that it is has become nearly impossible to get help for unruly students, then why things are such a mess becomes readily apparent. My question to you is, how are these things teachers’ faults.

Common sense should tell the powers that be the answer shouldn’t be to pile on tons of additional tasks on teachers already over burdened shoulders or worse to make them afraid for their jobs if all the new ducks dropped into their laps aren’t in the exact same row. Things would be much better if our elected officials looked up the law of parsimony in the dictionary and went with it, because it’s obvious they didn’t learn what it meant while they were in school.